An optimistic and pessimistic view of the Fire

Through 13 games, the Fire are last in Major League Soccer. That’s despite a start that produced eight points in their first four matches and an aggressive offseason from sporting director Georg Heitz.

Yet last in the league is where the Fire sit more than a third of the way through the season. Can they turn things around, or will this be another lost campaign for a franchise that has spent most of the last 13 years disappointing its fans?

Here are two outlooks, depending on your perspective:

The optimist’s view

An attack with Xherdan Shaqiri, Chris Mueller and Jairo Torres should be dangerous. Once those players fully mesh and struggling striker Kacper Przybylko snaps out of his funk, the Fire’s offense might wake up and trouble opponents consistently.

There were signs of that during a 3-3 draw May 18 against the Red Bulls. Shaqiri played his best game since joining the Fire, and Mueller scored his first goal for the team. According to FBref, the Fire produced 1.6 expected goals, their third-best mark of the season.

Under coach Ezra Hendrickson, the Fire have shown the capability to lock down opponents and play disciplined soccer. When healthy, captain Rafael Czichos has been one of MLS’ best defenders, lifting the play of fellow center back Wyatt Omsberg. And now that he’s free of the decision about whether to represent the United States or Poland internationally, Gabriel Slonina might show the talent that has made him one of the most coveted young goalkeepers in the world.

Add that up, and the Fire can get back into the race for their first playoff berth since 2017.

The pessimist’s view

The Fire are winless in their last 10 matches in all competitions, and skids that long don’t come out of nowhere.

Shaqiri, currently the highest-paid player in MLS at $8.15 million in guaranteed compensation, has three goals and two assists in 11 matches and already has missed time with a calf problem. Przybylko has two goals — both in one game — and the link-up play between the two hasn’t materialized. It’s still early, but the possibility exists that the chemistry won’t arrive and that neither will live up to his hefty salary.

It’s also possible that the Fire’s defense was never that good and that it was a matter of time before it was figured out. The Fire have surrendered at least 2.0 expected goals in four of their last five matches, something that might get worse if Czichos misses more time with injuries.

Heitz, meanwhile, hasn’t proved he can build a deep or competitive MLS squad. His first two Fire teams averaged exactly one point per game, and this group is at a meager 0.85, which means anything he put together doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Sure, the roster looks decent on paper, but did Heitz figure something out after two poor seasons?

The recent crash says no, setting the tone for another losing season. And that should force owner Joe Mansueto to take a hard look at Heitz.

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