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Fire hoping for change starting Thursday at D.C. United

The Fire enter Thursday’s game at D.C. United on a three-game losing streak and realize things must change soon.

Johan Kappelhof controls the ball during last Saturday’s match against the Union.
Courtesy of the Fire

Win, lose or draw, the Fire need something to feel good about.

Entering the game Thursday night at D.C. United, they’re winless and have dropped three in a row. They’ve been outscored 9-1 since scoring their first two goals of the season, and tough questions are being asked about the direction of the team as a result of the slow start.

So anything positive Thursday would go a long way and give the Fire something to use as a foundation. There were some bright spots during the first two games, but the recent 2-0 losses to the Red Bulls and Union have fallen short of any tangible progress.

“Our last two performances have not been good enough,” goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. “For us, it’s putting in a good performance and starting to move in the right direction and being tuned in for 90 minutes and playing to our strengths and doing the things that we do well and trying to exploit the things that they don’t do so well.”

But it’s hard to pick out something the Fire are doing well.

The issues have been well-documented, even as the lineup has changed for tactical and health reasons. The Fire (0-3-1, one point) have struggled to convert, and they’ve leaked opportunities in front of Shuttleworth. Somehow, due to communication and concentration breakdowns, they’ve given up three goals on plays that started from throw-ins, which are considered easier to defend, adding an unnecessary degree of difficulty to their task.

Those problems have led to understandable frustration and a need for something to change before another season spins out of control. Coach Raphael Wicky said Wednesday that he feels he still has the support of club brass and emphasized that the players are giving the necessary effort and receiving the coaching staff’s message.

“The team wants to do or does the things we are asking them to do,” Wicky said. “I don’t feel it’s a team that doesn’t care. I don’t feel it’s a team that doesn’t fight, that doesn’t work together. That’s not at all what I feel.”

Regardless, something has to change. And soon.

For most teams, playing against D.C. United (1-3-0, three points) would present a prime opportunity to pick up three points. In its first season under new coach Hernan Losada, D.C. has dropped three straight as it tries to recover from last year’s 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

The Fire, however, have to make their own fixes to take advantage.

“This is the only way we can go forward,” Wicky said. “We speak with the players, what has to be better. We work on it, and then, yes, it’s on the players not to make these mistakes, and we have to start [Thursday] with that. That’s the reality.”

NOTES: The Fire have two scheduled home games (Aug. 14 against Columbus, Oct. 31 against New England) that conflict with Bears home dates. The Bears also are slated to play at home Oct. 3, and their five-day window for use of Soldier Field could also clash with the Fire’s Sept. 29 game against New York City FC.

. * Wicky said the Fire received their second round of COVID-19 vaccinations after Saturday’s game and that “almost everyone” is fully inoculated.