Fire quickly flame out

Missed op­por­tu­ni­ties in tour­ney has them search­ing for an­swers

Chicago Sun-Times - - FIRE BEAT - BY BRIAN SANDALOW | @bri­ansan­dalow

There are two press­ing ques­tions around the Fire af­ter they were elim­i­nated in the MLS is Back Tour­na­ment on Thurs­day: Where are they as a team? When will they play again?

There is no clear an­swer on both. Af­ter a 2-0 loss to a short­handed Van­cou­ver team, the Fire fell to 1-2-0 in the tour­na­ment and 1-3-1 over­all in 2020. In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, that would mean they’re off to a slow start and that the pieces aren’t fit­ting cor­rectly.

Of course, the cir­cum­stances in 2020 are far from nor­mal, and they were cer­tainly un­usual for the Fire in Florida. Their first game was post­poned, they switched groups and played two morn­ing matches.

But at the same time, the Fire had two chances to ad­vance to the knock­out round but whiffed both times. And in­stead of re­spond­ing af­ter the weather de­lay Thurs­day, the Fire al­lowed two goals and were done.

“I think what we learned is that we need to be tuned in at all mo­ments,” de­fender Jonathan Born­stein said. “Games are go­ing to be tough in this league. We are go­ing to have to over­come cir­cum­stances.”

There were some pos­i­tives dur­ing the Fire’s three games, which be­gan with an en­cour­ag­ing win over de­fend­ing-cham­pion Seat­tle be­fore losses to San Jose and Van­cou­ver. Striker Robert Beric looked the part of a des­ig­nated player, and rookie Mauri­cio Pineda showed signs of jus­ti­fy­ing the excitement around his ar­rival.

How­ever, the back line looked vul­ner­a­ble with­out Jo­han Kap­pel­hof. The Fire went score­less in their fi­nal two games, and coach Raphael Wicky left cre­ative mid­fielder Djordje Mi­hailovic on the bench for “tac­ti­cal” rea­sons when they needed goals to stay alive against the White­caps.

“It’s progress,” Wicky said. “It will take time. We will keep work­ing. We are very dis­ap­pointed now. We will talk about things, and then the only thing is we keep go­ing. We keep work­ing, and we stand up again.”

When the Fire will get that chance is unclear.

The league is hop­ing to re­sume the sea­son in its home mar­kets af­ter the MLS is Back Tour­na­ment. On Thurs­day, Nashville SC coach Gary Smith told re­porters he is pre­par­ing for a fall sched­ule, an­other sign the sea­son could go on in some way.

But no of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment has been made, and the tra­jec­tory of the coro­n­avirus could play a role if games are played.

There’s a chance the Fire won’t play again un­til 2021. No­body knows what’s com­ing next.

“We’ll keep our­selves pre­pared in what­ever way we have to,” Born­stein said. “We went through three and a half months as a team, and I think all our guys did a great job dur­ing that time, and so we’ll see what is ahead of us. It’s re­ally hard to say with­out ac­tu­ally know­ing.”

GETTY IM­AGES

White­caps goalie Thomas Hasal makes a save against Robert Beric on Thurs­day. The Fire lost 2-0 and were elim­i­nated from the MLS is Back Tour­na­ment.

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