Fire quickly flame out
Missed opportunities in tourney has them searching for answers
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.”
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.