Currently last in the Eastern Conference with only 15 goals and 14 points, the Chicago Fire are in the midst of what has to be considered a lost season. They've seen their best player — David Accam — sidelined with various injuries for most of the year, and new manager Veljko Paunovic doesn't appear to have any idea what to do with this group of players. Now eight points out of a playoff spot at the season's halfway point, the Fire seem down for the count.
They lost again on Saturday, this time in Toronto. It was a game that resembled European soccer games more than it did regular MLS games, in that Toronto FC were clearly the much better team and that Chicago had every intention of sitting really deep and trying to wait out a 0-0 draw, like they were Las Palmas and TFC were Barcelona.
Remarkably, only one team in MLS really plays like a bad team (9 behind ball, kick it long to get reprieve, have zero offense). Poor Fire.— Alicia Rodriguez (@soccermusings) July 10, 2016
The amount of space Toronto were given to work with was incredible. Their 4-4-2 diamond formation was kept narrow and compact, so the Fire's 4-3-3 formation couldn't combat it. Benoit Cheyrou was positioned expertly all game, and put on a master-class in smart, patient distribution from deep; he was able to do this in part because of the complete lack of pressure that was put on him.
Paunovic switched to a 4-4-2 formation in the second half, and that worked slightly better in terms of creativeness, but it wasn't enough to put a goal on the board. They lost 1-0, with left back Justin Morrow's first half goal holding up.
Chicago have some serious work to do if they want to get back to being a competitive club in MLS. That work starts this transfer window, where they will likely look for someone to give them some creativity. And make them stop playing like a crappy La Liga team.
If figured I might as well take a crack at this year's midseason awards and best XI:
MVP: David Villa (NYCFC)
I'll take the majority vote on this one: David Villa is my MVP.
He is leading the Golden Boot race with 12 goals, and has played a huge role in getting NYCFC near the top of the Eastern Conference. Villa has played in all 19 of NYC's games this season, making him the most durable DP in the league. And frankly, I can't imagine the Light Blues without him leading the line.
Honorable mentions: Mauro Diaz, Sacha Kljestan, Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Giovinco
Defender of the Year: Keegan Rosenberry (PHI)
I doubt a rookie has ever won the Defender of the Year award. As of right now, Keegan Rosenberry is my pick to make history.
The number-three pick in the SuperDraft hasn't missed a minute for Philadelphia, and has been incredibly effective from a pure defensive standpoint. He has made people forget about his age with impressive showings against some of the best in the league — including Villa — and has excelled when forced to go 1v1 against any attacker. Rosenberry has been a revelation this season, and deserves to be recognized for it.
Honorable mentions: Drew Moor, Matt Hedges, Jelle Van Damme, Aaron Maund, Axel Sjoberg
Rookie of the Year: Jordan Morris (SEA)
Rosenberry may be the Defender of the Year, but Jordan Morris beats him out only slightly for the Rookie of the Year. Although Morris's Seattle side may be down in the dumps at the moment, the Stanford product's six goals put him over the top. He has had an unbelievable rookie season, and it would be even better if he got any service at all from the Sounders' midfield.
Jack Harrison is making a heck of a run, though. Watch out, Jordan.
Honorable mentions: Keegan Rosenberry, Jack Harrison, Jonathan Campbell, Femi Hollinger-Janzen
Coach of the Year: Patrick Viera (NYCFC)
The Coach of the Year race is incredibly tight, and one that will likely change hands multiple times throughout the rest of the season. As of the current moment, however, NYCFC's Patrick Viera has a hold on it.
Viera's done a very good job of elevating an NYC team that didn't challenge all that much last year to the top of the Eastern Conference. He's taken a difficult puzzle and put it together expertly; one of his best coaching accomplishments this season was figuring out how to put Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard on the field at the same time without giving up a ton of goals. His next task involves decoding the mystery that is Yankee Stadium.
Honorable mentions: Pablo Mastroeni, Jim Curtain, Jeff Cassar, Oscar Pareja
Newcomer of the Year: Carlos Gruezo (FCD)
The 20-year old Ecuador international Gruezo has taken Victory Ulloa's starting job and run with it. A consistent starter on his country's national team, Gruezo has been key this season as a ball-moving central midfielder next to Kellyn Acosta. He can get into the attack if needed, but he's often best at playing a more defensive role.
He may not be as flashy a selection as Giovinco was last year, but he has quietly been very good for FC Dallas this year.
Honorable mentions: Burrito Martinez, Jelle Van Damme, Shkelzen Gashi, Ronald Matarrita
Goalkeeper of the Year: Andre Blake (PHI)
Andre Blake has developed himself into one of the most athletic shot-stoppers in MLS. He has consistently made the big saves for the Union — earning himself a spot on the fan XI — and has gotten better and better at controlling his box and organizing the backline as the season's progressed. The Jamaican international has plenty of competition for this award, but at the moment, he is fully deserving of it.
Honorable mentions: David Bingham, Nick Rimando, David Ousted, Clint Irwin
GK: Andre Blake
RB: Keegan Rosenberry
CB: Matt Hedges
CB: Drew Moor
LB: Ashley Cole
DM: Osvaldo Alonso
CM: Sacha Kljestan
CM: Mauro Diaz
FW: Ignacio Piatti
CF: David Villa
FW: Sebastian Giovinco
— David Bingham (GK)
— Ronald Matarrita (LB)
— Aaron Maund (CB)
— Marcelo Sarvas (DM)
— Diego Valeri (CM)
— C.J. Sapong (FW)
— Fanendo Adi (FW)