Photo by Jeff Vorva
A worn out Bastian Schweinsteiger wipes his face after the loss to the Red Bulls. There is some speculation that this was the German star’s final game in a Fire uniform.
Is that all there is?
Chicago Fire management started re-tooling a roster that had finished with the worst record in Major League Soccer since November.
Then there was the long season from March through October -- a season which saw the team with an 11-3-5 mark on July 5 and tied Toronto with the best record in MLS. A team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. A season in which the Fire drew 20,000 or more fans six times at home. A season that saw the Men in Red seeded third in the East Division and they got to host a playoff game on Oct. 25 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
And about those playoffs?
Is that all there is?
I was kind of hoping the playoffs would be special. But it really wasn’t much of anything. There was an empty feeling after a 4-0 loss to the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls in front of a so-so crowd of 11,647.
The Fire continued to show that on the Chicago sports food chain, it is a distant fifth. With the exception of the rabid soccer fans on social media, hardly anyone was talking about the playoff game twixt the Fire and New York Red Bulls in the knockout round of the playoff.
Until Sunday, night, we didn’t even know who, what, when and where this game would be played. So I don’t blame the fans for not showing up. There was little heads up.
Heading to the game, I listened to the radio and a WSCR update never mentioned there was even a Fire game being played. Most sports fans in my circles didn’t even know there was a playoff game.
The Fire was most noted for signing German star Bastian Schweinsteiger and he played just 25 minutes in the second half of the knockout game and 44 for the final six games of the year because of injuries. Speculation is that he might not be back next year and this may have been his last game in a Fire uniform.
The other major story of the year was Nemanja Nikolic’s goal explosion as he set a team record and earned the MLS’s Golden Boot with 24 goals. But he, like the team, was blanked in the final regular game of the season (a 3-0 loss to Houston) and the knockout game.
Social media posters, who have been quick to praise the team when things were going well, have been quick to turn on second-year coach Veljko Paunovic because of the way things ended. He took the brunt of the blame for the loss.
“It's my fault obviously it's my fault,” he said. “If there was anyone to blame it's me. We all can do better."
Promising newcomer Djordje Mihailovic of Lemont went down with an ACL injury that is so bad, he is expected to miss a chuck of next season as well.
So making the playoffs wasn’t all that much fun.
But it was a fun season. I would not trade it for 2016 or any of those losing seasons since the team made the playoffs in 2012. I don’t know if the Schweinsteiger signing was the failure some critics claim it is, but when he was signed March 31, it energized this club and the wins piled up.
Signing Nikolic and Dax McCarty were successes. Losing people such as Michael De Leeuw and John Goossens to injury were tough breaks.
The bottom line is that this team wasn’t built for a championship. It was built to improve and that’s what it did. In that regard, the season was a success.
Now General Manager Nelson Rodriguez will hope to wheel and deal the team up another level.
And what about Basti?
"As Nelson Rodriguez said, we are in talks, we will see, it's the same like with any player here,’’ Schweinsteiger said.
The needle is pointing up on this team, but it’s a crazy league in which successful teams can turn mediocre in one season.
I’ll enjoy the fact that this team went from awful to pretty good in a year and feasted, even if the ending featured a lot of empty calories.