Entering the season arguably the biggest perceived weakness of the Chicago Fire was the team’s defense.
Coming off a 2015 campaign in which the team allowed the most goals in the league and entering 2016 with an all new defense, the Fire weren’t expected to get three shutouts in a row and certainly not so early in the season. Either the new faces weren’t going to be significant enough upgrades or they would take time to build the cohesion needed for a good defense.
Even after the first match of the season the defense didn’t look improved and coach Veljko Paunovic said as much. However, following Sunday’s 0-0 draw in Yankee Stadium (the first ever scoreless draw in Yankee Stadium for New York City FC), the Fire now have three shutouts in a row and a shutout streak (356 minutes) that is the second longest in the team’s history (the record is 395 minutes).
So of course now that the defense appears to have gone from weakness to strength, the offense has gone from what looked threatening after scoring three in the opener to listless. The Fire didn’t put any shots on goal on Sunday and have scored just two goals in the past four matches.
“We have to understand that this is going to be a long season and streaks like this may happen again,” Paunovic said when asked about the offensive struggles in his weekly conference call with media on Tuesday. “We’ve improved very well (in defense) and we can see in the data we didn’t concede any goals in the last three games, which is very important for us. Still we have to know that we have to convert opportunities and create more opportunities than we are doing so far, but it’s not frustrating. That’s part of building the team, part of the long season and we can also understand that every time the team has that solid defense it helps during the season to build a successful year and reach all objectives and goals.”
[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear here]
The absence of David Accam has certainly loomed large. Accam had two goals and an assist in the first two matches. The Fire have scored one goal, which came while the Fire were playing up a man after a red card, in the three matches without him.
It also sounds like Accam may miss another week. Paunovic has repeatedly said how important Accam is to the team and mentioned that again when explaining how he is progressing from injury.
“It’s tricky because we want him as soon as possible, but we also don’t want to push him in order to not make the injury worse,” Paunovic said of Accam. “So far he is improving well, but still we are not sure he is going to be ready.”
The Fire’s recent stretch of low-scoring matches raises the question if this is what the Paunovic era will look like. Is he actually a very defensive, pragmatic coach?
“Every team has some strengths and some weaknesses,” Paunovic said. “I believe that in order to sell your strengths you have to work on your weakness. I think that in the first game we saw what our weaknesses are and so far we are working to fix those and I think we are improving very well.
“You have to score, for that you have to control the game, but sometimes that control starts from a good defensive system and from that building up to progress to be very, very offensive.”