Saturday was a big day for the Chicago Fire. The team won on the road for the first time since 2014 and almost certainly had its best performance of the season.
It’s fair to celebrate the accomplishment given how long the Fire went without winning on the road. After being asked about it frequently in the beginning of the season, coach Veljko Paunovic, who wasn’t responsible for a majority of the streak, would bring it up on his own before every road. It was something the team was clearly thinking about. Having that gone is a major step for the rebuild of the club and it was clear in the players’ reactions.
The reality check is that the Fire still have the worst record in the league, still have the worst road record in the league and are still a sizable, although not insurmountable, six points out of the playoffs.
Paunovic is aware of this and addressed how important it is for the team to use the Montreal win as a “catalyst.”
“It’s a process and a part of the process was winning on the road,” Paunovic said during a conference call with the media on Monday. We are not looking back. We are just looking forward. We want to take advantage of this momentum… We want to use it as a catalyst, an important boost for us.
“I think it’s a fantastic moment and momentum that we have at this point.”
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The Fire only have to wait a few days to return to the field and find out if they can keep the momentum or if the win in Montreal was a one-off. The LA Galaxy come to Toyota Park on Wednesday.
David Accam, who had a goal and an assist, was named to the MLS Team of the Week while goalkeeper Sean Johnson was named to the bench. Accam will join Ghana’s national team for the next international window, scheduled for Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, and is expected to miss the Sept. 3 match against Philadelphia. David Arshakyan, who is still waiting for his visa so he can join the Fire, will join the Armenian national team. Collin Fernandez, currently on loan with Saint Louis FC, was called into Peru’s under-20 team.
With Accam healthy and playing well, recent additions Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac both contributing to the attack and Arshakyan still coming, there are signs of improvement. Ever the optimist, Paunovic used Saturday’s win as evidence that the team is finally showing the progress it has made this season.
“I just see the team that is starting to play the way we want to play and that we were chasing during all this season,” Paunovic said. “I just see a great opportunity in being strong at home and the win on the road at Montreal. I see a great opportunity, but the game against LA is either going to be the confirmation or we will have to adjust again.”
Considering Paunovic said earlier this season that “at some point we will surprise everyone by how well we played,” it comes as no shock that Paunovic said Saturday’s performance was not surprising or unexpected.
“We were getting closer,” he said. “Maybe in some games we didn’t compete on that level, but I can say in most of our games on the road we played well and it was only the posture that we were missing, which in this game I think we finally started and we found it.”
Oddly enough, this weekend three MLS teams won on the road for the first time in 2016. Columbus, 2-0 winners at New England, and Houston, which won 2-1 at San Jose, stayed ahead of the Fire in the league standings with wins. Defending champion Portland is now the only team yet to win on the road this season. There are eight teams, including the Fire, with one road win.
The Fire’s 3-0 win was the sixth time this MLS season that a road team won by three goals or more.