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Thursday, May 12, 2011
Finishing touch eluding Fire

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire offense possessed the ball for almost 70 percent of their scoreless draw against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday.

They garnered a miniscule point in the standings and no goals to show for their efforts.

The team's finishing touch has been absent for more than a month now. Chicago (1-3-4) showed promise right out of the gate, particularly with a three-goal effort en route to a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City on March 26, followed by a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on March 30 in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play-in match.

The Fire have not posted a multi-goal effort since then, and the 4-2 loss to the Portland Timbers on April 14 included both defenses swapping own-goals.

Diego Chaves
The Fire's Diego Chaves fires a shot against the Whitecaps at Toyota Park on Saturday.
So where has the finishing gone? How can a team that has the ball for two-thirds of a game not manage to tally a single goal?

"The confidence is always important, and maybe it's the technique in the moment, the way that you shoot the ball, the way that you have reception of the ball after you shoot," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "Maybe it's the pressure of this moment because the player -- I'm talking generally -- has a good option and he misses, which is part of this game."

True, unfinished chances happen all of the time in soccer. But with only five goals over a six-game stretch, while posting a 0-3-3 mark during that span, the Fire have to be beyond frustrated that they have not capitalized during most of these moments.

Diego Chaves, who leads the Fire with four goals, had the closest attempt against Vancouver with a shot that hit the right post.

"I've seen goal scorers completely miss-hit it and it goes in the back of the net," Fire defender and midfielder Gonzalo Segares said. "Other times, you hit it really cleanly and it doesn't go in. I think that toe poke that Diego had, he placed it well but was unlucky it hit the post."

The problem for the Fire is that nobody else has truly stepped up beyond Chaves. The Uruguayan had a hot start to the season with three goals in the team's first three games, but the rest of the Fire's goal production has been minimal.

Dominic Oduro did net a goal during a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in April, but Oduro has had other strong chances to put the ball away. His latest was a one-on-one chance against Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly in the 32nd minute, when Oduro tried to shoot at the near left post and lofted the ball over the crossbar.

"Dominic did everything well, and he even said that he felt that if he placed it at the side that everybody saw, he felt that the goalkeeper was leaning that way," Segares said. "So he tried to kill it the other way. Things happen so fast, you've got to make decisions really fast. The good thing about it is that we're creating the chances, and I'm pretty positive that eventually they're going to be in the back of the net."

The number of chances and possession might dwindle a bit as the Fire hit the road in front of a typically rowdy BMO Field crowd in Toronto.

But Toronto FC has had three losses in which it has given up three or more goals in each match. The Fire should have their opportunities. They just need to start putting them away.

"It's a talent. It's a natural talent," De los Cobos said. "It's necessary to work every day, and I think a very important part is the mentality of this moment, and the conviction to do it."