Thursday, June 30, 2011
Fire vying for second-half turnaround
By Charlie Corr
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire are only three draws away from matching FC Dallas' MLS record of 14 last season, and only half of the 2011 campaign is in the books.
Considering the parity of MLS and the league-wide pattern of regular stalemates across the board, the Fire likely will establish a new ties mark when all is said and done. But clearly this team wants -- and needs -- to start penciling extra points in the win column.
The Fire open the second half of their season when they travel west to take on Chivas USA. But there is this gray area lingering within the club. Is Chicago on the cusp of turning those draws into occasional wins, or will this be an ongoing issue that will place them out of the running for a postseason?
"The decisions have to be better when we do create," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We've got to be better in those moments. In the last game against New York, we had our chances, whether they were 3v2s, 6v5s -- we have to finish our plays better. The attitude has been good. We're working on our patterns. It's just the finishing in the final third."
It will be interesting to see how the Fire approach further personnel additions, especially in the central midfield. Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini has been linked to the Fire, with Klopas confirming in mid-June that the team has been looking at him.
Pending any additions, the Fire in the immediate future need to work with what they already have in place. And as the Fire (2-4-11) enter the weekend, they have a fairly steep hill to climb as they currently are tied with Sporting Kansas City for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
In league play, the Fire had a quiet June on the scoreboard, outscoring their opponents by a 3-2 margin in six games, posting a 1-0-5 record. Diego Chaves netted a goal in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action on Tuesday against the USL Pro's Rochester Rhinos. He has not scored an MLS goal since a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on April 23.
The Fire are healing up a bit, and every available option will be important. One focal point heading into this Saturday's game is the absence of midfielder Daniel Paladini, whose accumulation of yellow cards will force him to miss the Chivas match. But defensive midfielder Logan Pause (concussion) comes back just in time. Pause trained Thursday and is traveling with the Fire to California.
Also improving on the health front are midfielder Mike Banner (Achilles tendinitis) and defender Steven Kinney (Achilles tendinitis). Both were training with the full team on Thursday. However, Klopas did not have a definitive answer as to when either player is returning.
"It was good," Klopas said. "They were involved in the technical aspect of training, so they are starting to get some touches with the ball and go through exercises. It was great to see them out there. But it's going to be a while. They need some time and training to make up for the time they've missed. They're one step closer, so that's a positive sign."