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updated: 8/10/2011 10:44 AM

After 14 seasons of soccer, Fire has finally hit bottom

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  • After Sunday's 4-2 loss Sunday at Vancouver, the Chicago Fire has been outscored by expansion teams 9-4 this season, and has managed only two wins in its last 22 games. The Fire's Patrick Nyarko, left, took a ball to the face as he battled Vancouver's Jordan Harvey on Sunday.

      After Sunday's 4-2 loss Sunday at Vancouver, the Chicago Fire has been outscored by expansion teams 9-4 this season, and has managed only two wins in its last 22 games. The Fire's Patrick Nyarko, left, took a ball to the face as he battled Vancouver's Jordan Harvey on Sunday.
    Associated Press/The Canadian Press

 
 

This might be the lowest point in the 14-season history of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

After Sunday's embarrassing 4-2 loss at expansion Vancouver, the Fire has just two victories in 22 games. It sits dead last in the Eastern Conference, behind even clueless Toronto.

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Want to feel more pain? In its four games against expansion teams Vancouver and Portland, the Fire has earned 1 measly point and has been outscored 9-4.

Firing coach Carlos de los Cobos on Memorial Day hasn't changed the results. The Fire was 1-4-6 under de los Cobos, and the club is 1-3-7 since interim coach/technical director Frank Klopas took control. The defense is better under Klopas, despite what happened Sunday, but the attack remains dormant. Before Sunday, the last time the Fire scored 2 goals in a game was de los Cobos' last game in charge.

The 2-7-13 record is something no amount of spin can change. The Fire has had a lot of turnover since last season, but that doesn't explain why second-year club Philadelphia can rise to second place or why Portland is 7 points better than the Fire.

According to spin doctors, the club has been blown out of only two games, just unlucky in most of the others. Those two blowouts, however, were delivered by expansion teams. And fans got tired of the hard-luck story last year.

In its first dozen years the club missed the MLS playoffs just once, in 2004, when it went 8-13-9 and tied for ninth in a 10-team league. Now it will take a miracle to avoid a second consecutive year out of the playoff mix.

That was unthinkable in 2008 and 2009 when the Fire went to the Eastern Conference finals, narrowly missing a MLS Cup berth.

But the Fire didn't renew coach Denis Hamlett's contract, and in 2010 the team finished in the middle of the conference pack under de los Cobos.

In 2011 the club is 17th out of 18 MLS teams and trending the wrong direction, having gone 0-3-2 in its last five games. Optimism reigned after adding midfielders Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini, but Sunday's trainwreck made that optimism evaporate. The team might be doing some good things here and there on the field, but victories remain as elusive as D.B. Cooper.

The only bright spot is the U.S. Open Cup, which the New York Red Bulls regarded so lightly they conceded a spot in the semifinals to the Fire by sending their scrubs to the quarterfinal match.

Things are not much better off the field.

Attendance at Toyota Park is down, and there's no shirt sponsor in sight to replace Best Buy, which said bye-bye after last season, further hurting the bottom line. For a club rumored to have lost $8 million in 2010, that's another bad trend.

Usually a mess like this requires ownership to make wholesale changes, but change has been the constant since owner Andrew Hauptman and Andell Holdings' Javier Leon took over the club in September 2007. Klopas is the fourth coach to take the team's reins in the last four years. The club has had three team presidents. And the roster turnover has been nearly as thorough.

The club already is looking for another new coach; Hauptman and Klopas said in June that Klopas would not keep the job, and Klopas' record probably confirms that. Hauptman seems to like having Klopas around as technical director, though.

Hauptman and Leon have a lot of tough decisions ahead of them. Their touch the past couple of years has been anything but golden.

That's the first thing that has to change, however, before the club finds a new low.

• Follow Orrin Schwarz's soccer reports on Twitter@orrinsoccer.

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