Entering Saturday, the Chicago Fire’s skid of five losses in six games featured disappointing results and performances, but nothing shocking or embarrassing.
That may have changed after the 2-1 loss to Minnesota at Toyota Park. The Fire entered with a 10-1-1 home record and the Loons came in winless on the road and tied for the fewest points in the league.
If nothing else, both the performance and the result proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Fire are not playing as well as they were a couple months ago. Coach Veljko Paunovic doesn’t think it’s physical issues, but rather a drop in confidence and mentality within the team.
“I think it’s the mental thing,” Paunovic said. “We are now in a situation where we are actually running a lot, we are doing a lot, but we are not sharp, we are not efficient. Then it always goes back to the confidence. It always goes back to the mentality. When it’s difficult, you see how everyone behaves against adversity.”
The immediate reaction was a Fire locker room that was more upset than after any home game this season or last. Even last week’s home loss to Toronto there were positives the team could draw from the performance.
After losing to an expansion team that has struggled this season, walking into the locker room was more of a ‘if looks could kill’ situation.
“Right now, I think I’m happy to see that our team is reacting,” Paunovic said. “I’m sure with that mentality and with that mindset at one point we will get the good result that will bring the confidence back. We will have to stick together like I said and keep working until that moment comes.”
Midfielder Dax McCarty has gone on long-winded explanations about what the team needs to improve, and sometimes that came after wins. Even McCarty was short on words with the frustration from another loss fresh in his mind.
“Nobody likes losing so everyone is frustrated, but we’re going to try to stay positive and get out of this,” McCarty said.
McCarty agreed with Paunovic’s assessment that it’s the mental side that is hurting the team right now.
“Yeah, sure, I agree with that a little bit,” McCarty said. “You got to have confidence to score goals and we can’t score goals right now so that’s the frustration.
“If you give the other team breakaways and tap-ins, you’re going to concede goals. On the other end if it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games.”
The two issues McCarty pointed to, mistakes and turnovers leading to goals and failing to convert opportunities, have plagued the team in recent weeks. Defensively, none of the Fire’s three injured starters, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster and Joao Meira dressed for the game. On top of that, one of the replacements, Christian Dean, was subbed out at halftime with a left foot injury and was on crutches after the game. Dean has missed time each of the past two years with injuries to that foot.
Nemanja Nikolic’s goal drought extended to eight games. David Accam scored to get the Fire back within a goal after the team trailed 2-0 at halftime and Accam is now two goals behind Nikolic with 14 on the season.
“It doesn’t go so easy like before,” defender Johan Kappelhof said. “Before the first chance was a goal and now we have to work hard for the chances and we don’t finish them and we give too easy (of) goals away. Now it’s a tough time, but we have to regroup and give everything we have to repair.”