Continuity was supposed to bring success for the Fire. Two games into the season, the most prominent aspects to carry over have been negative.
Entering Saturday’s match at the New York Red Bulls, the Fire have allowed five goals in two games, and the back line has looked leaky like it did in 2020. They had a prime chance to win their opener but turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution, carrying over another trend of wasting leads and not finishing off matches.
So far, the opening two matches have looked like games 24 and 25 of the 2020 season, not a new beginning in 2021. There have been positives such as the emergence of midfielder Luka Stojanovic after a knee injury wrecked his 2020 season and the attacking presence of right back Boris Sekulic following an underwhelming debut last year, but on balance the season is off to a familiar start.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Atlanta that the Fire are trying to work on their issues and limit the mistakes, hoping they don’t become a common theme again this year.
“It’s unfortunate to see them creeping in there again, but we have to continue to work hard,” Bornstein said. “I think when you come off a loss like this the only thing that’s left is to go out and work hard in training and wait for the next test which is on the weekend. That’s kind of all I know how to say about that.”
The Fire haven’t been helped by injuries, which have cost them new signee Stanislav Ivanov, the dependable Fabian Herbers and hard-working Elliot Collier. Attacker Ignacio Aliseda and defender Miguel Navarro were unavailable Saturday after playing in the opener, and the injury problems have forced Chinonso Offor, known as a striker, to start the first two matches out of position as a left-sided midfielder.
The lack of depth, which would still have been a concern if the team had stayed healthy, has been startling. The Fire have made just three of an allowed 10 substitutions over two games, and Saturday’s match in Atlanta seemed to be ripe for changes or at least fresh legs, but coach Raphael Wicky waited until the 87th minute to bring on defender Jhon Espinoza in place of Offor.
Wicky could’ve used any of the untested Homegrown outfield players on the bench - not to mention defender/midfielder Mauricio Pineda, a 2020 mainstay who hasn’t seen the field yet this season - but chose to stick with his starters for all but the last few minutes of the match. Atlanta, meanwhile, benefited from impact changes, and the Fire were unable to keep up in the final stages of the game.
“When you lose 3-1, you cannot be happy, especially with the way you concede the goals,” Wicky said. “We keep working. We keep working, moving forward and that’s the only thing to do and that’s the only way to go.”