When the Fire moved to Soldier Field, there was hope they could emulate the Seattle Sounders or Atlanta United. Those leading MLS clubs, playing in NFL facilities, were supposed to be the model for the Fire both on and off the field.
But there’s another team the Fire should follow that’s much closer to the lakefront:
The White Sox.
Despite long-term injuries to star outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez and the end of second baseman Nick Madrigal’s season, the Sox were 18 games above .500 after Wednesday’s 8-7 win over the Rays. While the Sox would probably be even better with one-third of their lineup, they’ve kept plugging along despite the adversity and look to be headed to the playoffs for the second straight year, with legitimate hopes for a World Series championship.
And you won’t hear them use the injuries as a crutch.
“Never give in, never give up,” Sox manager Tony La Russa told reporters the day after Madrigal’s injury.
That’s an attitude the Fire should copy.
Entering Saturday’s game at the Crew, the Fire are 1-5-1 and staring at another lost season if they don’t change course. After an 11th-place 2020 when they frequently mentioned the upheaval of the pandemic (which also affected the rest of the league), a common refrain from the 2021 Fire has been injuries.
Yes, they did suffer a rash of absences to their midfield. But other teams have been without key players, and none entered the June break behind the Fire’s .57 points per game.
So why can’t the Fire put aside adversity and get results? The Fire are still trying to figure out the answer, and coach Raphael Wicky said there isn’t a single explanation.
“The injuries we had, the six very important players for us who were hurt, they hurt us hard, but I don’t want to take these as excuses. That’s just a fact,” Wicky said. “We missed a lot of those players. Some of them are now back and some are on international duty. Other teams had that as well. There’s multiple factors.
“In certain games, we didn’t convert our chances and in certain games we made too many mistakes or we gave a goal up and then we couldn’t come back.”
No, the Fire-Sox comparisons aren’t apples-to-apples. Even with their injuries, the Sox’ baseball roster is better than the Fire’s soccer playing staff. Obviously, the teams play different sports, and the Sox have been carried by their starting pitching, a factor that isn’t present in soccer.
Yet at the same time, the Sox have gotten contributions from unheralded players and keep persevering partly because of a winning mentality that seems to get stronger by the series. The Fire, meanwhile, keep insisting things will change even though they haven’t had anybody step up and grab points.
“We are trying to reflect [on] what we can change, what we can do better,” Wicky said. “And the one thing is we are working hard on bringing this team back into winning games.”