The ugly moments of the Chicago Fire's 2011 season have been piling up from week to week. Their last effort, a scoreless draw against the Eastern Conference's last-place Sporting Kansas City, left a bitter taste for the team and for many folks attempting to watch the match.
"It wasn't a pretty game," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said of Thursday's match at Livestrong Sporting Park. "We had opportunities to make better passes and decisions, and we had opportunities on the break. Those are things that you've got to be working on, developing attacks from the back."
The Fire (1-4-8) prepare for another East battle on the road when they face the Columbus Crew (4-3-6) on Sunday at Crew Stadium. Columbus is 4-0-3 on its home pitch, most recently posting a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.
"This is a game where we definitely have to be better with the ball in the midfield and have better ideas and movement off the ball," Klopas said. "We need to find the feet of our forwards. [The Crew's] back line is not the quickest."
Klopas has not tipped his hand regarding specific lineup adjustments. But with Sunday marking the Fire's third game in a nine-day stretch, it is likely that Klopas will not roll out the same lineup as Thursday. In that match, forward Diego Chaves and midfielder Patrick Nyarko both came off the bench. Chaves is tied with Marco Pappa for the team lead with four goals.
"We're going to make some changes, for sure," Klopas said. "They need it. We need some fresh guys out there who are ready to step in and help."
The Fire's franchise-long winless streak reached 11 (0-4-7) on Thursday. This stretch is starting to break into the realm of the longest winless streaks in league history. But with seven draws, the Fire's 11-game stretch does not compare to horrendous droughts such as the New York Red Bulls' 13-game stretch (0-11-2) in 2009.
The one bright spot over the Fire's past two games has been back-to-back shutouts from the defense. Klopas continues emphasizing the team's need for defensive stability heading into Sunday against the Crew.
"They're dangerous on set pieces with [Chad] Marshall," Klopas said. "He's always a threat. We have to make sure that we don't concede a goal that way."
Man U's Neville tours Chicago: Retired Manchester United right back Gary Neville did the rounds in Chicago as part of a promotion for the July 23 match between the Red Devils and Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. Neville took the first pitch before Thursday's White Sox game -- in Bob Uecker terms it was "juuuuust" a bit high. Then on Friday, while under the weather, Neville made an appearance at an Aon luncheon at the Mid-America Club (Aon is the principal sponsor of Man U), then went to The Globe Pub for a meet-and-greet. There also were ample photo-ops with Neville and the Premier League Trophy.
Neville has taken on an ambassador type of role to promote Man U, and at the luncheon he had an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics. Among them, he talked about the struggles of England's national team in the World Cup, and agreed with a question that eluded to players not holding the national team as high -- or higher -- than playing for players' respective league clubs. He chatted about whenever Sir Alex Ferguson's coaching tenure wraps up, that his replacement will need to have "thick skin" -- no surprise there. And Neville also has warmed up to the social media craze, taking on a more proactive approach in promoting himself, soccer, Man U and more.
The Fire face Manchester United at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at Soldier Field. The match is part of the 2011 World Football Challenge from July 13 to Aug. 6. Man U's schedule also includes matches against the New England Revolution (July 13) and Barcelona (July 30 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.).