2022 MLS season: Fire looking, sounding painfully familiar

After the Fire’s 3-2 loss Saturday to Toronto FC, coach Ezra Hendrickson bemoaned individual errors and officiating decisions that contributed to the defeat. He also stressed that, if the Fire fix their individual mistakes, they can turn their season around.

“We have to stay confident,” Hendrickson said. “This team is going to be a good team.”

Fire fans and observers have heard that before, and they have every right to be skeptical that this is the time the club will follow through.

Over the last decade, there have been similar comments from coaches Frank Yallop, Veljko Paunovic and Raphael Wicky after losses that would be unthinkable for other franchises. Though they are different coaches with different backgrounds and philosophies, they all failed to fix a club that seems to invent new ways to lose.

Through four games, this group appeared to be different. The Fire were stingy in front of their own goal and opportunistic enough offensively to pick up eight points, sparking optimism that maybe the tide had turned in the Fire’s favor.

Then, even as the roster got better with the addition of wingers Chris Mueller and Jairo Torres, the Fire declined. The team’s defensive lapses picked up, and the personal slips got worse. And perhaps no game showed that more than the latest loss, when the last-place Fire outshot Toronto 33-5 and had 63% of the possession but still ran their MLS winless streak to 10.

“It was an incredible game,” defender Miguel Navarro said through a translator. “Sometimes [soccer] is like that; it’s unjust. We have to keep working hard and look over everything. It was really incredible. We have to keep our heads up and keep working hard and keep moving forward so that we can get points.”

Perhaps for other clubs, a game like that would be incredible, especially against a lowly team like Toronto. But the Fire have almost become predictable, and so far, the second build by sporting director Georg Heitz has only resulted in a pricey, top-heavy roster with little usable depth.

Sure, it’s possible the players will mesh and the team will start winning more games. Yet there was the same hope after Yallop signed three new designated players for the 2015 season. There was hope that a fourth year together was all Paunovic and executive Nelson Rodriguez needed to get it right, and that continuity under Heitz and Wicky in 2021 would bring better results.

Of course, those hopes were dashed. And that showed even though the club changed owners, stadiums, front-office brass, coaches, players and even logos, some things can stay the same.

This Fire team is in danger of continuing that trend.

“We’ve just got to believe in ourselves, believe in that, believe in what it is that we are doing and just cut out some of these individual errors,” Hendrickson said. “If we cut those out and continue to build and continue to progress like we have, I think we’ll be fine.”

Don’t believe it until it happens.

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