Finally above the redline and showing promise. What else can we take away from Chicago’s first seven matches? There is a lot to assess because a lot has happened since Paunovic and Rodriguez took charge two offseasons ago. The reign got off to a shakey start with the sale of Harrison Shipp but the pair managed to steady the ship with solid performances by draft picks, Jonothan Campbell and Brandon Vincent. The new youth was promising and Chicago started looking like a team for the future.
Unfortunately, Chicago had already been waiting for many years. Management realized this and made the decision that winning in the future isn’t good enough. Nelson’s infamous three year plan was laid out, the timeline was set. Three years from now we will be a championship program and the intension would be to stay in the upper echelon. Season one came and went. The wooden spoon was retained with one big difference visible, The Men in Red have individual talent. Players like Johan Kappelhof , Arturo Alvarez and Michael de Leeuw were proving their worth in Major League Soccer. The 2015 Rookie of the Year finalist, Matt Polster, was shining in midfield. 2016 draft picks, Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent, followed suit by giving Jordan Morris good competition for the award. The real gem on the field was David Accam, seemingly running the offense single handedly with his explosive speed. In 2016 there was talent, however all this individual talent still amounted to a wooden spoon.
This offseason, impatient Chicago supporters were already calling for Nelson’s and Pauno’s heads. Rumors even circulated about ownership change. Instead, the offseason brought something else. It brought more individual skill in the form of the Polish League Golden Boot winner, former LA Galaxy star, 2016 captain of the Supporter Shield winners, and a German World Cup winning legend. In 2017 Nemanja Nicolic, Juninho, Dax McCarty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all shown their worth. The problem seems to be fitting the pieces together.
With the players on the roster, it is now coach Paunovic’s job to fit the puzzle together. How can we play Juninho, Schwein, and Dax in the same eleven when they all shine at the same deep lying midfield role? What do we do with Matt Polster? How can we protect the Achilles heels at right back and keeper? Year two in the three year plan will be about finding these solutions.
The team has shined brightest when Harrington isn’t given too much defensive responsibility and when the midfield stars manage to work together. Still a mystery to me, Jorge Bava has no idea what he is doing in net. This should be Nelsons number one transaction priority. In the mean time, Matt Polster could be the solution to the right back whole. If not I would like to see Matt still stay in Chicago to learn from the big three summer transactions in the midfield. Polster has a golden opportunity to learn if he is able to be patient and wait for his name to be called.
So where do we stand?
Floating above the red line, Chicago stands 5th in the Eastern conference with three wins, two ties, and two losses. In the mean time, Dax McCarty’s fortress at Toyota park could be forming, Chicago is still undefeated in Bridgeview. Not only that, Chicago even looks like a cup contender at home lately. On the other hand, the road woes from the past few seasons have continued, with a 4-0 pommeling in Atlanta and a not so pretty game played out in Toronto.
With two more away games in hand, look for a few things to happen in order to keep us above the red line. Schwein needs to prove the remaining doubters that he can travel, Paunovic has to deploy a midfield formation that meshes the similar skill sets, and Polster needs to step in for Harrington if Pauno elects to play a four man back line. Lastly, up top things have been a mixed bag. Solignac has put himself in the starting eleven with a few star performances while de Leeuw has found himself on the bench with some lackluster play. Nico has managed to keep a decent goal count but has done nothing special. The goals need to keep coming from this man for Chicago to compete.
The next two weeks could be at a turning point as McCarty and Juninho head to familiar territory in New York and LA. Will this be the year Chicago breaks free from the bottom?
-Chicago ranks fourth in payroll.