Back in early March – just two games into the season, and with very little substance from which to base our opinions – we here at The Loop Sports wrote a hesitantly optimistic piece on the Chicago Fire’s 2017 season outlook.
It didn’t take much time for us to second-guess our predictions: just a week later, the Fire were dismantled 4-0 down in Georgia against an unbelievably cohesive Atlanta expansion side, in a match that began with a Brandon Vincent own-goal and Johan Kappelhof red card.
After that, who could have possibly guessed that the Fire – a team who has seen but one playoff berth in the last seven MLS seasons – would be sitting where they are today; 28 points and nearly atop the Eastern Conference table, good enough for second in the entire league just behind Toronto F.C. (29 points). More than that, the Fire are unbeaten in their last seven regular season matches, and have not lost a single game at home in 2017 (that’s the longest stint in MLS regular season play since 2012, by the way).
That embarrassment back in March at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta may have momentarily seemed like a sign from the heavens that an improved season from the last was (yet again) just not meant to be. However, that was before.
Before Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped onto the pitch for the first time in a Fire uniform, scoring in his MLS debut and reshaping the entire midfield.
Before Nemanja Nikolic went on a scoring rampage that earned him MLS Player of the Month in May, as he continues to lead the Golden Boot race with 12 goals.
Before Luis Solignac’s heel-flick game-winning volley, a dream goal that sent the Fire through to the next round of the U.S. Open Cup and landed Solignac a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
Before four Chicago players were named to the MLS Team of the Week this week (shout out to Nikolic, Schweinsteiger, Accam, and Meira) following a 2-0 win against – who else – Atlanta United; this time back in Toyota Park.
Indeed, since that performance in Atlanta – one that seemed to crush our own confidence here at The Loop Sports as noteworthy and reliable sports writers – the Chicago Fire have slowly begun to emerge as a completely new and increasingly unstoppable force in the MLS. Finally, following season after season of new rosters, lineups, formations, coaches, and one experiment after the next, this historically successful and once well-respected club is finding some soft turf to dig its cleats into.
And at this point, nearly halfway into the season, it seems a sure thing that the Fire’s abnormal streak of championship-caliber play is anything but a fluke.
During the USMNT’s World Club Qualifying Weekend, the Fire were forced to play two of its matches without captain Dax McCarty’s unifying presence in the heart of the field. And in two games, the Fire walked away with four points, further establishing their consistent dominance and showcasing their depth with players like Matt Polster and Juninho.
Although it’s true that those last two regular season matches without McCarty exposed some of the Fire’s continued woes from previous seaons, like the team’s inability to put together a viable attack from possession, Chicago’s performances without their captain nonetheless demonstrated their ability to find productivity elsewhere (counter-attack, counter-attack, counter-attack).
Still, as already stated, the season is barely halfway through, and there’s ample time for Chicago’s hot streak to burn out. But this particular reporter isn’t so sure the Fire are through with their climb to the top.
Even going into Foxborough on Saturday against a chippy Revolution club that will be scraping at every point to put themselves above that red playoff line, there is a certain feeling of confidence from soccer fans in the Windy City. The Men in Red haven’t lost a match since April, and (very much unlike previous seasons) watching any game with this Fire side on the pitch seems almost destined to pack drama and excitement.
So, heading into the home of the Revs this weekend, fans all over the MLS will sure to be keeping tabs on this ongoing comeback from a city whose soccer team has largely been a joke for the past seven years. In the meantime, we here at The Loop Sports will continue to be bold in our predictions for the Fire, who by the way haven’t yet given us a reason to doubt their continued tight grip on the league (since March 18 in Atlanta, that is).
Catch the Fire on Saturday at 6:30 pm CT on CSN Chicago.