BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire were looking for a win at home against Real Salt Lake to turn around the team’s recent struggles. Instead, they are still searching for answers.
The 1-1 draw against RSL featured familiar problems near the goal for the Fire. There were also some new lineup changes.
With a six-match winless streak, there are plenty of questions piling up about the team.
What can the Fire do to be more efficient in front of goal?
Coach Veljko Paunović and midfielder Dax McCarty both lamented the team’s lack of a killer instinct when they get scoring chances. Saturday’s performance wasn’t littered with chances, but the Fire were in or around the RSL box a fair amount and had little to show for it.
Nemanja Nikolić, less than two years removed from winning the league’s scoring race, was a non-factor in the first half. He had one chance around the hour mark, but he was taken off the ball in the box. He was subbed off in the 63rd minute.
The Fire had one shot in the first half and that came from a free kick. Aleksandar Katai turned it into a goal, but it didn’t show the Fire’s ability to create from the run of play.
Katai finished with four shots. Przemysław Frankowski had three after subbing into the match at halftime.
Between Nikolić and his replacement, C.J. Sapong, the Fire didn’t get any shots from a striker. Playmaker Nicolas Gaitan was credited with no shots, no chances created and a match-low 61.5 pass completion percentage.
“We’re just lacking a little bit in the final third,” McCarty said. “We’re going to keep going because the chances are there. I think in 2017 we saw we hit a nice patch of form and the goals started flowing. We’re capable of it. I’m convinced we’re capable of scoring a lot of goals like we did against Colorado, New England. We’ve had plenty of chances this year to put the ball in the net. It’s just a matter of guys getting one, getting two and then gaining that confidence to get more.”
How is the Fire’s confidence?
This rut isn’t quite as bad as the one in late 2018 when the team lost six straight, but it has a similar feel.
The Fire were in desperate need of a good result on Saturday. Instead, it was another deflating performance. McCarty maintains the locker room is still together despite the slump.
“I think it’s easy in these situations to get negative and to let your frustration boil over,” he said. “But the locker room is together. We have good veterans. We have guys with experience. We have guys that have played in this league long enough to know that you just need one or two good results to go your way. Sometimes when you’re in a stretch like this you just need a little bit of luck. It’s not like we’re out there getting dominated by teams.”
With the way things are going, plenty of questions are being raised. Is there a need for change in the team? That could come from a roster shakeup in the summer transfer window, which opens July 9, or from changes off the field.
The Fire’s next two matches, at the New York Red Bulls and at home against Atlanta, aren’t easy ones. It wouldn’t be surprising for this rut to still get worse before it gets better.
Can Brandt Bronico be a solution at right back?
In less dramatic storylines, Brandt Bronico started at right back on Saturday. Bronico has been a reliable depth option in central midfield, but was given a chance to address the team’s weak spot at right back.
Paunović said Bronico got a crash course on what they wanted from him at that position over 10 days.
“After the game in St. Louis, as we had issues with that position, we offered the possibility to learn the position and earn the spot,” Paunović said. “He embraced it from the first moment. We worked with him. It went pretty smooth and easy in training and the video sessions and meetings we had.”
Paunović credited Bronico with a “fantastic performance.” With Djordje Mihailovic and Francisco Calvo playing in the Gold Cup and Johan Kappelhof nursing an injury, the Fire’s depth is being tested. Bronico moving to right back gives them another option.
Mo Adams played in central midfield with McCarty, but had a rough game. Adams picked up an unnecessary yellow card early in the match and then committed a handball in the box to give RSL the penalty kick that led to its only goal. Adams was subbed out at halftime. Bronico proved capable at right back, but the Fire may need him back in midfield.