It's official. The Chicago Fire have completed the first half of their 2021 Major League Soccer season. The club played its 17th match this past Wednesday, which resulted in a 0-0 draw against Eastern Conference contender NYCFC.
It was a sluggish affair as 8,000-plus fans saw just five shots on target between the two teams, with just one for the Fire.
Defender Mauricio Pineda expressed disappointment the Fire could not get three points, especially as they had a man advantage for the last 20 minutes of the match.
"I think being at home of course, being a man up for the last part of the game, I think it is disappointing to only come out of that game with a point," Pineda said, "but at the same time I think we knew that they were dangerous on the counter, even if they were down a man so I think we had to remain focused in that aspect of the game."
And the Fire should be proud they did handle NYCFC's attack so well. NYC had come into the match having scored the second-most goals and most goals-per-90 in MLS. Furthermore, it was the first time NYCFC did not score a goal in 26 matches dating back to last season.
Looking Forward to the Second Half
The Fire are winless in their last five matches (3D), but there is some hope fans can take into the second half of the Major League season.
A tactical change from four defenders to a three-center back formation has worked out well for Raphael Wicky and his side.
In the first nine games of the season -- before the switch to three center backs -- the Fire accrued only four points, were shut out six times, and scored just four goals. In the eight matches since, the Fire have collected ten points, scoring 14 goals in the process.
The Fire do, however, find themselves 10 points away from the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. And while that is already a tough mountain to climb, add the fact that 11 of the club's last 17 matches will be away from Soldier Field.
The Fire have not won a match away from Soldier Field since beating Orlando City in the 2019 finale and only just received their first point away from home against the Philadelphia Union last weekend.
It is nice to see that the Fire have improved. While the club sometimes frustrates with simple, fundamental miscues, the mistakes seem to be less glaring and the team seems to be gelling together a bit more.
At the end of the day, though, the Fire were a team set on making the playoffs this year, and the on-field product has not been good enough. They must show improvement in the second half of the season in order to carry any confidence into 2022, given 2021 looks to be yet another season without MLS playoff soccer in Chicago.
"We are obviously not happy with the amount of points we have, that’s for sure," Head Coach Raphael Wicky said about his team's performance in the first half of the season. "That's for sure, we expected more. We have higher expectations so with that we aren’t happy. I still think this team is developing. I still think there is a curve, we see a curve that is going upwards, that the team is growing together."
Joe Mansueto and Georg Heitz will certainly be looking for that curve to continue that upward trajectory.