Wednesday marks the final day of a month that has been particularly kind to Chicago Fire faithful. After rattling off wins in four of their five May matches, head coach Veljko Paunovic's men can look back on a historically relevant few weeks, and should look forward with confidence to the months that remain as a result.
Here are a few takeaways to carry forward from the month that was:
4. Few months in Fire regular season history have been as good as May 2017
As the calendar officially flips into June, it cements the team’s performance in the month of May among the best single-month stretches in club history. The Fire began the month with a 2-2 draw at LA on May 6, before rattling off four consecutive wins to go 4-0-1 over their five May matches. Taking total points earned and percentage of possible points won into account, May 2017 comes in as the second-most successful single-month since the club’s 1998 inaugural season (min.: 5 games played).
Chicago Fire single-month records, 1998-2017 (per Elias):
|MONTH||GP||RECORD (W-L-D)||POINTS (% POINTS WON)|
|June 1998||5||5-0-0||15 (1.000)|
|May 2017||5||4-0-1||13 (0.867)|
|Sept. 2012||5||4-1-0||12 (0.800)|
|July 2001||5||4-1-0||12 (0.800)|
|Aug. 2000||6||4-1-1||13 (0.722)|
|June 2005||6||4-1-1||13 (0.722)|
After a slow start to its inaugural campaign (2-5-0), the club’s 1998 side had a historic month of June, racking up a perfect 5-0-0 record with a goal differential of +11 to set them on their path to their historic MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup titles. With a 4-0-1 record and a +8 goal differential of their own, the month of May put in by the 2017 edition of the Fire has them among good company historically.
3. Road confidence
It’s no secret that the Fire have struggled to take full points in road games over the last few seasons. While one month of solid play away from home doesn’t represent a narrative shift entirely on it’s own, the Fire’s four points earned in two May road games -- specifically their win 1-0 in D.C. on May 20 -- felt different. The Fire opened their May calendar with a 2-2 draw in LA on May 6, but left the West Coast feeling that they’d left points on the table after the Galaxy -- who've since gone on to win three straight matches -- equalized on a pair of set pieces to erase a 2-0 Fire lead. However, against a vulnerable D.C. team, it was all business for a Fire side that entered the match expecting to win, and did just that. The Fire get their next road challenge on Sunday against Eastern Conference upstarts Orlando City SC. (UPCOMING WATCH PARTIES AT HEINEKEN PUB97)
2. Weight of expectations
Picking up a few wins as a plucky underdog is one thing, but winning when you're "expected" to -- and with a target on your back game after game -- is quite another. And while the Fire’s home form over the last season-and-a-half is an extended trend — unbeaten in 22 of 23 competitions dating back to April of 2016 — conceding late and settling for draws became a bit too familiar at times late last summer and fall. Heading into 2017, instilling the ability to close out leads and take full points was a major emphasis for Paunovic and his staff. Following the road draw at LA to open the month of May, the Fire looked forward to matches against Seattle, Colorado, and D.C., all three of which at the time found themselves in varying states of discontent. On May 13 — in front of a sold out crowd on national television -- the Fire surrendered a 1-0 lead in the first half to the reigning MLS Cup champion Sounders, and securing a win again seemed a tall order. But, three second half goals later, the Fire had cruised to a 4-1 win. Nemanja Nikolic and co. took control of a game they were expected to win, and did. Four days later they did it again against Colorado, then again against D.C., then one more time against a well-rotated FC Dallas side en route to second place in the Eastern Conference.
1. All-Star candidates on all three lines
While Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival and subsequent level of play in the Fire midfield have drawn headlines, the club’s recent run of form has been the result of a collective effort that’s seen multiple players garner national praise. The Fire have legitimate 2017 All-Star candidates all over the field, including Schweinsteiger. Among the others are MLS Golden Boot leader Nemanja Nikolic, whose six goals scored in the month of May contributed to his league-leading 11 overall. David Accam reached new heights as well, scoring a goal in each of May’s five matches and registering a pair of assists, giving Chicago a lethal one-two combination up front. Defender Brandon Vincent picked up three assists in May — matching his total from the entirety of his 2016 rookie season — as well as back-to-back-to-back inclusions among the MLS Team of the Week for his efforts. Additionally, Dax McCarty’s steadying presence in the midfield in May and throughout the 2017 campaign earned him another call up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Alongside with Johan Kappelhof, Juninho, and Jorge Bava, vote for the Men In Red to be included in the MLS All-Star Fan XI right here, once a day, until Saturday, June 3, when the voting will move online.
The Fire kickoff their June schedule this Sunday with a trip to Florida to take on Orlando City SC (6:30 pm CT, FS1). Stay tuned for a look at the questions that linger as the Men In Red aim to make June as memorable as May...