Despite elimination, Leagues Cup not a loss for Fire

To get to the playoffs, the Fire will have to play at a high level against good teams in challenging conditions. Perhaps the Leagues Cup helped get the Fire ready for a stretch that will define whether 2023 was a success or failure.

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Jonathan Dean and the Fire hope to benefit from their Leagues Cup experience.

Courtesy of the Fire

The Fire didn’t win the Leagues Cup. That doesn’t mean it was a failed endeavor.

Thanks to beating Minnesota United and losing in penalties to Liga MX side Puebla, the Fire won their group. Then, in their first knockout match, they lost 1-0 to Mexican powerhouse Club America in Bridgeview.

Not a trophy for the Fire, but not bad, either.

“I think it was very important to have continued to play well as a team, and I think we did this in this tournament,” coach Frank Klopas said.

Entering the tournament, the Fire were one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer. One valid concern about the Leagues Cup was whether it would interrupt a team’s flow in the middle of the MLS season.

Time will tell whether the Fire will be negatively affected, but there’s reason to believe they won’t be. As Klopas said, the Fire played well, and though they would’ve liked a better outcome, the defeat at least gives them 16 days of rest before returning to league play Aug. 20 against Orlando as they begin the crucial final third of the season.

“It’s a great tournament, and I think we wanted to continue to play at a really high level,” Klopas said. “I felt we did that as a team.”

To get to the playoffs, the Fire will have to play at a high level against good teams in challenging conditions. Perhaps the Leagues Cup helped get the Fire ready for a stretch that will define whether 2023 was a success or failure.

The Leagues Cup pitted them against a Minnesota team in contention for a Western Conference postseason spot, a Puebla side that made the 2023 Liga MX Clausura playoffs and Club America, one of Mexico’s perennial heavyweights. And the Club America game — even though it was played in Bridge-view — felt like a road match for the Fire as Las Aguilas’ supporters made SeatGeek Stadium their home.

“We played very good teams throughout this tournament. Club America showed [last Friday] that they’re a really good team,” midfielder Jonathan Dean said. “Great fan base, and they made it tough and difficult. It’s a good test, especially towards the end of the season, to play in an environment like that. So hopefully we can learn from that.”

The next 11 games will show whether the Fire applied what they learned. Finishing strong and making the postseason would show the Fire benefitted from their Leagues Cup experience.

“Of course, we have 11 games left and we have to fight until the end,” midfielder Gaston Gimenez said. “It’s always our goal to get into the playoffs. We look to continue getting better. We’re on a good path, and we look to reach that goal the club has.”

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