Fire coach Ezra Hendrickson has asked for patience with this team. With better health and more time to mesh, he thinks this group could succeed.
“It’s not so much patience because guys are young but it’s patience because it’s a relatively new team and it’s going to take awhile to get guys to mesh and gel with each other, and now you have also a new coach with a new philosophy that they have to also grasp,” Hendrickson said Wednesday. “So that’s where the patience, when I talk about patience, it’s not so much about age or anything like that, it’s about giving time to develop.”
The Fire don’t have much more time to wait, but at least they have something positive to build from.
Playing without Xherdan Shaqiri (right hamstring), the Fire beat lowly DC United 1-0 on Saturday in front of an announced Soldier Field crowd of 17,650. Substitute Fabian Herbers scored in the 78th minute to halt the Fire’s 10-game MLS winless streak and give them their first victory since March 19.
“I think it’s a huge push for us in the right direction, hopefully,” Herbers said. “Hopefully we can continue on that and keep going.”
The Fire’s high-profile designated player, Shaqiri picked up the injury last Sunday on international duty with Switzerland. Never known for his durability during his time in Europe, Shaqiri also missed time earlier this season with a calf issue.
Before the international break, Shaqiri was showing why the Fire paid so handsomely for his services. Luckily for the Fire, the hamstring problem doesn’t sound like a severe injury, as Hendrickson seemed optimistic Shaqiri could play Saturday at Houston.
Though the Fire attack spearheaded by Shaqiri replacement Brian Gutierrez had its moments, the finishing product was lacking until Herbers’ header snuck past DC United goalkeeper Rafael Romo.
“It’s a relief, but the past couple games now we’ve really played some good soccer,” Hendrickson said. “The Toronto game [on May 28] was unfortunate but we put that past us, we worked really hard the last couple weeks, this week especially the boys really put [the hard work] in.
“We gave them a challenge tonight, that we need to have a mentality when we step on the pitch, and an attitude that we don’t just want to dominate games, we don’t want to just play better than teams, we want to beat teams,” Hendrickson added. “They went out today from the start and really showed that mentality, showed that attitude.”
The Fire will need that attitude to get back into the playoff picture.
Last year, the Red Bulls claimed the East’s last postseason spot with 48 points. Using that number as a standard, the Fire still need 34 points from their last 19 matches, or 1.79 per game, to climb that high.
Over a full season, that would translate to 60.8 points, which would’ve meant a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference last year. To go on a run like that, the Fire would have to turn what Hendrickson views as progress into wins.
“We’re building something,” Hendrickson said. “That consistency’s not quite there yet, but it’s coming. We’re just happy that we’ve kind of stopped the bleeding, so to speak.”
NOTES: Defender Wyatt Omsberg left with an injury in the 95th minute and was replaced by Carlos Teran.
* Besides Shaqiri, the Fire were also missing attacker Jairo Torres (left hip) and defender Miguel Navarro (health and safety protocol). Stanislav Ivanov started in place of Torres and Jonathan Bornstein took Navarro’s spot.
Ivanov’s start marked his first appearance since May 7.