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Wednesday, October 27

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Fire Mon May 11 2009

When Undefeated Isn't Good Enough

There is no hiding it anymore. Despite being the only undefeated team left in MLS, the Chicago Fire are mired knee-deep in mediocrity. Their 2-0-6 record leaves them an unimpressive third place in a less-than-impressive Eastern Conference. It's not enough just to not lose games. They need to figure out a way to win them too.

The New England Revolution team that the Fire played on Saturday night was so depleted by injury that they had to play the league's best defensive midfielder at center forward. Still, the Fire could only manage a draw. It's just the latest in a series of games where the Fire couldn't come up with a victory against struggling MLS teams.

The San Jose Earthquakes, Kansas City Wizards, New England Revolution, even the Columbus Crew, who were off to a horrible start; these are the teams you need to take 3 points from to have a shot at the Supporter's Shield. Having left 10 points on the table in the past 5 games, that ship might have already sailed for the Chicago Fire. So what's going wrong?

It hasn't been that they've played poorly. Other than the Columbus game, the Fire have dominated every team they've faced. But the Fire need to find a way to turn dominance into goals, especially when they've already gotten lead but still need to kill a game off. Many thought starting Chris Rolfe would be a magic, game-winning bullet. But his disappointing performance against New England after finally earning his first start of the season proved the Fire's problems run deeper than that.

Of course, it's not just the lack of a killer finish. In fact, the Fire are tied with Real Salt Lake as the league's highest scorers. What's really worrying is the Fire's tendency to give up goal's to teams that aren't really attacking well. Maybe it's because they have so little to do defensively, but Fire defenders have had an alarming tendency to switch off at crucial moments this season, especially when an opposing player is creeping in on the back post. Some have said it's because injuries and national team call-ups have meant the same back four haven't played together very often. That's tough to buy though, considering it's been a combination of the same six players each time, and with Tim Ward as the only new addition this season they should be pretty familiar with each other by now.

What do both of these issues have in common? It's about a lack of concentration, focus, and discipline over 90 minutes. They aren't doing all the little things needed to close out a game. In short, it's about a lack of professionalism. Here's the thing though: this is not a young team. This team is full of veterans. They know what it takes to win games, but for some reason they aren't doing managing to do it. That makes this run, despite the undefeated streak, the most frustrating start to a season I've ever seen from the Fire.

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