Oh hi! I’m Jiggly. And it’s a Tuesday.
Last week, immediately following the Sad Bois recording session, I went out to get both my flu and COVID booster shots. Well, that and get pizza, but the pizza cost way too much, and I guess I’m not doing that anymore. But I got my shots, came home, and started working on my column and editing the podcast, but by the end of the night, I just had no focus. A column was not getting made that night. I thought it was just about being a bit out of it from the shots, but I think that I just sorta shut down for a lot of the week. I just couldn’t get myself to write anything until Thursday night. So here I am now on another Monday night, ready to finally write about the topic that I was planning on writing about last week.
You’re Gonna Carry That Weight
It’s like clockwork. Every season, the Chicago Fire lead their fans on a little adventure late in the season before ultimately fading away into the mist without a word. For the final few weeks, some truly faithful go into games thinking that the Fire could just solidify a playoff spot with just an extra little push, only to find that there’s just nothing there anymore. Some years, it’s at least been an interesting final match. Maybe the Fire don’t put up too much of a fight, but at least the opponent plays hard, and we see such classics as the end of the 2013 or 2020 seasons. This game, though… It was absolutely pathetic all around. The Fire only took two shots on goal for the whole first half, with one of them being straight at the keeper and the other a free-kick. And while the Fire were able to finally get going towards the end, it was too little too late. When Maren Haile-Selassie and Kei Kamara came on in the 65th minute, there was finally some urgency, but it was unfocused and still pretty lethargic. It almost felt like the Fire were trying to buy time, playing for overtime for most of a game where they needed to WIN in order to have any chance of making the playoffs. Instead, they only really had that energy the moment they were finally down by a goal. But I get it, I guess. Making the playoffs is hard. The Fire makes it look so hard, so it must be.
Our good friend Tim Hotze had been talking to me about an article he was working on about the Fire’s pure mathematical odds to make the playoffs, and a couple of weeks ago, he finally posted it. In it, he says that the Fire’s straight-up odds for the Fire not to make the playoffs a single time since 2019 was a little less than 3% (or, exactly, 2.857%). But he later mentioned outside of the article that, including this season and the two seasons missing the playoffs prior to Heitz, that number shrinks to 0.54%. Now, I’m not exactly a “betting man,” but I am a weeb. And the only time I see odds that low are in gacha games, which are basically mobile games that are designed to suck money out of desperate and horny weebs who want a certain .png of a cute anime girl. They are notorious for having horrible odds when it comes to winning those .pngs. While many of you may experience this in Ultimate Team-type sports games like FIFA or Madden, EA Sports is very secretive about what their specific pull rates are outside of saying they are “less than 1%”. However, gacha games are completely open about their exact rates. So the Fire missing the playoffs for as long as they have is less likely than: Pulling a 6-star operator in Arknights (2%), Pulling an SSR servant in Fate/GO (1%), and pulling a 5-star character in Genshin Impact (0.6%). Those last two are viewed as some of the most brutal odds in all of gacha games, with some calling them “impossible”.
The raw odds are stupid, but it gets worse when you consider how long this span has been. Let’s take my own personal life as an example, seeing as how I love oversharing anyway. The last time the Fire made the playoffs was the year I graduated high school. I now have a bachelor’s degree this year after I had to use up a bonus year on my associate’s and took a gap year in between those two degrees. Before that, the last time they’d been to the playoffs, I was in junior high. My dad didn’t let me go because it was a school night. That was over a decade ago today (on Halloween). The last time the Fire were in the playoffs before that was actually the last time they WON a playoff game. 2009 was the year that Barack Obama was inaugurated for his first term. At that time, the Chicago Blackhawks only had their three Stanley Cups from back in the 30s and the odd one in 1961. The Bears were less than a couple of seasons removed from having gone to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman. It was the year that classic shows like Parks and Rec, Community, Archer, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race started airing. Also the best X-Men cartoon series ever made, but it also ended that year. Fall Out Boy went on hiatus, came back, and have now doubled the size of their discography in the time between the last Fire playoff win and right now. ADVENTURE TIME BEGAN AIRING AND ENDED IN BETWEEN! A 282-EPISODE ANIMATED SERIES THAT RAN FOR PERT NEAR A DECADE!
But this year was different, right? It felt different. It had to. We had that run in the summer, we won games on the road, which almost never happens, and we were still very much in the hunt on the last day of the season. So it was fine, right? Well, I regret to inform you that while this season was different, it was different because it was so much worse. The Fire were not almost a playoff-caliber team; they were one of the worst teams in the league.
On the attack, the Fire was both anemic and inefficient. They had the third least touches in the final third and the second least passes into the final third, a sign that the Fire could not get anywhere near the goal. They also were the sixth worst in total touches and among the worst in total progressive distance traveled toward goal. Either they couldn’t keep possession, or they couldn’t gain it, and either way, it wasn’t moving forward that often. But maybe it’s not the worst thing. Some high-seed playoff teams were near the Fire in those categories, like the Philadelphia Union and St Louis city. But while they struggled there, they made up with scoring. The Fire did not. The Fire ended the season worst in Key Passes, third worst in Shot Creating Actions, and tied for second worst in Shots on Target. In fact, the only teams with worse Shots on Target percentages all had well over 350 shots taken on the season. The Fire had 349 shots taken.
As for the defense, they weren’t terrible. But that may be because it’s hard to quantify defense in soccer. However, there were some standout stats to me. The Fire conceded 11 penalty kicks, with the most the second worst team conceded was 7. They allowed by far the most touches in the central third of the park, allowing 650 more touches than second-place CF Montreal. They also allowed both the second most total passes attempted and completed, only behind the San Jose Earthquakes in both of those metrics (the West was weird this season). And while the Fire were not able to move the ball toward goal efficiently, they certainly allowed opponents to do so, allowing the third most total progressive distance traveled. This all led to allowing the fifth worst xG on the season, held back only by an amazing season from Chris Brady. It’s a story for another time, but Brady’s save percentage at the volume of shots he was facing was only beaten out by Roman Bürki.
But again you say, maybe we can build on what we did do right. While I cherry-picked a bit in defensive stats, I’d left out how the Fire were top 10 in tackles, interceptions, and recoveries. That means something, right? Well, first I’ve gotta say that having a lot of tackles, interceptions, and recoveries means that you probably don’t see the ball that much in the first place if you have to spend so much time taking the ball away. Second, the Fire seem to be showing no signs of changing what they’re doing anytime soon, which is a problem.
We’ve always heard that “signing players is hard.” Signing good players is probably even harder. Hell, it might be one of the hardest things to do in the world, just behind finding a tall goth woman who loves soccer and anime who’s strong enough to carry me around on her shoulders. At least that’s what the Fire seem to be making it out to be. Despite coming into the season with massive question marks and holes all over the pitch, the Fire seemed to be unable to solve any of those problems. The team’s failure to sign a solid striker or central midfielder is clearly visible in those horrible stats. Their attempts at fixing those gaps included signing strikers that can come off the bench in MLS’ great super sub-Kei Kamara and speedy prospect Georgios Koutsias, and picking up Ousmane Doumbia, who seems to be proving Tim’s assessment right that he may be good, but MLS refs will never understand his value. Don’t even get me started on the team’s fullback signings. Despite bringing in a Ligue Un veteran and a touted Liga MX prospect, the best pickup was some dude off a USL roster. No offense to Jonathan Dean; in fact, that’s great praise for him, but his competition at the position also didn’t show up this season.
While that roster management was bad, it’s not likely to change with Georg Heitz still at the reins. And by all accounts so far, he seems to be sticking around. Whether he’ll be in some sort of “super-boss” role between the Fire and Lugano or if he’ll simply be back in the same capacity as he has been, it’s looking likely that he’ll still be here ready to have another go at hiring a coach whose requests will inevitably be ignored as he does his own thing with the roster. And it’s not like he’d only be around for a bit longer; the minimum I’d expect him to sign for is another 2+1 year contract, possibly a 3+1. Like, we can hope and pray for a difference, but it does as much help as “thoughts and prayers” have done for most things in our modern culture. We’re going to have to live with the same guy who has constructed a couple of the worst rosters in club history. And, as always, it’s not the players’ fault. They took a contract to play professional soccer and did what they could with what they had. It’s on the person who puts them in a position where they are either out of position, out of options, or simply out of their depth. It’s just something we’ve come to expect and that anyone who doesn’t expect it is gonna have to get used to.
“You’re gonna carry that weight.”
That line means two different things to two different sets of people. For one side, it’s a classic line from a Beatles song tucked away inside the Sun King medley on Abbey Road. For the other, it’s the final message of white text on a black screen left at the end of the classic anime Cowboy Bebop. Either way, both of those two locations for the line hold the same meaning. At the end of the day, there are some things you cannot leave behind. There are some feelings that you will never be able to shake. For Spike and the crew aboard the Bebop, none of them could truly escape their past, seemingly relapsing into whatever it was that they were involved in prior to coming together. And for The Beatles, it was a statement from Paul that he could no longer take being the happy guy anymore. That everything from that time, with the Apple Corps fiasco and the inevitable breakup of the band, was going to be a heavy load on him for the rest of his life. For the Fire, the weight they carry is not this season’s weight. This season meant next to nothing outside of a few moments, like the wins against St. Louis and Inter Miami. It wasn’t about this season. It was about the collective weight of years upon years of horrible management, bad soccer, and a seeming inability to recognize and fix some of the most destructive parts of this club. I still believe in Joe Mansueto. I do so because I want to. But it gets harder every day. That weight gets heavier every day.
Therapy. I started therapy recently. She’s only just seen the surface of the sheer amount of distress that the Fire brings me.
Multi-Class. Honestly, I really have nothing to say. I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate almost all week and thinking about how I needed to write this column.
Help. Just in general, anyone got good workout tips? Trying to lose weight. I’d like to be match-fit at some point in my life.
The Boss is Here. Our Editor-in-Chief was on Sad Bois FC this week. You should check it out, we had fun.
I love you.
And I’ll see you next week.