Through 29 games this season, the Chicago Fire have scored just 28 goals, putting them at an average of slightly less than one goal a game. That’s good for last in MLS, four fewer goals than the two teams just above them–D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who each have 32. It’s also on pace to be worse than last season’s total of 35 goals, which was the second-worst in MLS.
And that’s after adding Xherdan Shaqiri, who was brought in to unlock opposing defenses, and Kacper Przybylko, who was MLS’s third-leading scorer since he entered the league. After those two high profile signings, the Fire are somehow worse at scoring.
The Fire’s xG comes in at just over 36–not particularly stellar to begin with, and they’re still underperforming it by eight goals. Look at it this way, if they’d just scored one goal in four of the team’s seven 0-0 games this season, they’d be in 5th on 44 points.
Here’s how Ezra Hendrickson sees it:
“So our ability to get from defending to attack, transitioning from mid-block to the front half has to improve so that we can create more chances,” the Fire head coach said. “I think the situation right now, we are not creating enough chances and that’s largely because of our inability to keep the ball once we have recovered it or once we’ve won it from an opponent.”
It doesn’t take an expert to know the Fire’s attack is toothless. Dive into the numbers, however, and it’s probably worse than you thought. Check out this table, produced by @OldOverlap using data from FBRef, and you’ll get a better idea:
Compared to other No. 9 +10 combos in the East, the Fire’s duo is way underperforming. Przybylko and Shaqiri have just 24 shots on target, half that of successful teams. Their percentage of shots on target is a dismal 27.2. And check out the non penalty goals plus assists per 90 column (npG+A/90): Shaqiri and Przybylko are producing at a dismal rate.
Remember, Georg Heitz and Sebastian Pelzer reportedly paid Lyon $7.5 million in a transfer fee for Shaqiri, and the club’s paying him another $8.15 million per season, according to data from the MLS Players Association. And what’s perhaps more maddening, the Fire gave Philadelphia $1.15 million in GAM for Przybylko– money the club essentially got from the sale of Djordje Mihailovic to Montreal, who is one of the higher performers on this list. Meanwhile, Jim Curtin’s attack has improved this season with Przybylko off the books, and Montreal was able to flip Mihailovic $6 million to AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.
You have to feel for a guy like defender and team captain Rafael Czichos, who’s not only anchoring a Fire defense that has 12 shutouts this season, but also has more non-penalty goals (3) than Shaqiri (2).
The Fire’s defense is playoff caliber, but you can’t win if you can’t score. Is this toothless attack a deficiency in Hendrickson’s 4-2-3-1 system? Are Przybylko and Shaqiri’s lingering injuries preventing them from playing better? Or did the Fire flat out get it wrong with two more big signings? Will the same sporting staff that brought you Robert Berić, Ignacio Aliseda, Shaqiri and Przybylko get another crack at fixing this yet again during the off-season?
At Wednesday’s weekly news conference, Hendrickson was asked what areas he’d want to upgrade this off season:
“I think our ability to put the ball in the back of the net is a big concern,” he said.
The Fire will try to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win Saturday against Inter Miami. Last time these teams met, on the season opener in February, the game ended in a 0-0 draw. We didn’t know it at the time, but that result would foreshadow the rest of the season–stout defense, with no bite going forward.
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