The 2020 Fire were different from their predecessors. They had a new owner, stadium, coach, logo and roster.
Still, the result was pretty much the same.
Here are four factors that explain why they missed the playoffs again:
COVID stops the season
Despite starting 0-1-1, the Fire showed some promising signs. Then the season was suspended because of the pandemic, halting the meshing process after an offseason rebuild.
The stop-and-start nature of the season was cited as a reason for the Fire’s struggles, but they weren’t alone in dealing with it.
‘‘I think, for me as a first-year head coach with a new team, we had a lot of changes in [the] winter,’’ coach Raphael Wicky said in October. ‘‘We basically started twice from zero — in January/February and then after the lockdown with the three-months break. We had finally these five, six pieces here to integrate. We started again — basically fresh [after] a very difficult stoppage, no friendly games — and it was difficult.’’
The Fire got off to a good start at the MLS Is Back tournament, beating the Seattle Sounders 2-1. Despite a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in their next game, the Fire were in position to advance to the knockout round entering their encounter with the short-handed Vancouver Whitecaps in the final group-stage match.
The Fire dominated for the first hour but couldn’t break through before a 93-minute weather delay. After the restart, the Whitecaps scored twice to eliminate the Fire in a loss that foreshadowed the rest of the season.
‘‘I’m very frustrated and disappointed about the way we came back,’’ Wicky said after the loss. ‘‘Very sleepy, not ready, and that is what frustrates me.’’
Five months late, the Fire finally returned to Soldier Field with a 3-0 rout Aug. 25 of FC Cincinnati. With no fans in the stands, the Fire began the process of feeling at home on the lakefront with a convincing victory.
‘‘Even though there were no fans in the audience, we have to do our best to make the stadium feel like home, grow strong here and make this a place where we can go out and win games,’’ midfielder Alvaro Medran said through a translator after the game.
Actually, the Fire could have used more home points. They finished 4-2-3 by the lake and were winless in their last three matches at Soldier Field.
The final week
For all of their issues, the Fire controlled their own destiny entering their final two games: a visit to Minnesota FC and a home game against New York City FC. The trip to Minnesota began well enough, as the Fire jumped out to a 2-0 lead. But they couldn’t hold it and settled for a 2-2 draw that assured them of a winless season away from home.
Still, the Fire would have advanced to the playoffs by beating NYCFC in the finale. But defensive issues and a late turnover by Miguel Navarro resulted in a 4-3 loss, ending a season that felt all too familiar to Fire fans.