ORLANDO – If you remember the first game of the tournament, you would have thought that Chicago Fire FC has a pretty big night ahead of them either Saturday or this week.
That’s when the upstart group returned to the pitch and knocked off the reigning Major League Soccer champion Seattle Sounders 2-1 in Orlando. That July 14th win actually put the Fire at the top of Group B, with only a few points needed in their final two games to seal up a spot in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout round.
It seemed as if first year head coach Raphael Wicky’s team was about to be a surprise entry into the final group of 16. Unfortunately, that momentum wasn’t able to continue, and on this Saturday night, they’re on the outside looking in.
The promising start fizzeled in a pair of 2-0 defeats in their final Group B contests. A loss to an experienced San Jose team on July 19th wasn’t as much of a surprise as the loss to Vancouver this past Thursday.
In two games, the Whitecaps had yet to get a single point, yet after a lengthy rain delay, they found a way get two late goals to pull out the victory. All the Fire needed was a tie to advance, but they’d end up losing the tiebreaker to Vancouver, and saw their time in Orlando come to an end.
Considering that any time with this still new group that got just two games before the pandemic shut down the season in March, not advancing was a blow for Wicky.
“It hurts. We’ve had three games now together with this group, so we are in the beginning. We are in the beginning,” said Wicky. “But we see good moments but we obviously also see that there is still work to do and we have to keep working. It’s going to take time. But today it hurts.”
For defender Jonathan Bornstein, the biggest lesson came in that final half against Vancouver, when the team wasn’t as sharp after the weather delay. It was a drop in performance that led to a pair of goals and an elimination, providing a difficult lesson for the still developing group.
“We go in for that pause, the weather comes through, we have to wait an hour pretty much to get back on the field, and we just weren’t ready; at the beginning, we gave up two goals,” said Bornstein. “In all types of this, the tournament, the whole year, we have had to overcome obstacles, but I think at all times you have to be ready. That’s kind of what we learn from the whole situation.”
When they’ll be able to apply that is still unknown, with the MLS schedule still unknown once the tournament concludes on August 11th. There is hope to play some kind of a second half of the season and playoffs, but no set plan has been developed.
It leaves a number of players in limbo as they head home from Orlando a little earlier than they would have liked.
“Now we are just going to go home and the coaching staff is going to tell us what to do next, what the next steps are,” said midfielder Alvaro Medran through an interpreter. “We might play against some of the teams that have already been eliminated. We might keep training the same way that we have been. They are going to put a plan together and let us know what the next steps are.
“We just going to keep going forward and keep preparing.”