Not even the most loyal Chicago Fire employee would call the first part of this season a rousing success, especially on the field. OK, so it wasn't a total disaster either.
Still, with the World Cup break coming to an end, there's plenty of room for improvement for Wednesday's match against Toronto FC (7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park, My-50).
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Fire scouting reportToronto FC at Chicago Fire, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park
TV: Channel 50
Scouting Toronto FC: Toronto (6-4-2, 20 points) will be without key midfielder Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Julio Cesar because of the World Cup. Forward Jermaine Defoe is available and has 8 goals this season, tied for fourth in MLS.
Scouting the Fire: The Fire (2-4-8, 14 points) has never lost to Toronto at Toyota Park, going 4-0-3. This is the start of a busy month for the Fire, with eight games, including the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals and a friendly against Tottenham. Defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is suspended for this match because of a red card.
Next: at Sporting Kansas City, 2 p.m. Sunday at Sporting Park
-- Orrin Schwarz
Here are five things on the Fire's to-do list:
Renew the jersey deal:
Surprised this list is starting with a mandate for the business side of the sport? Well, this affects what happens on the pitch, and sources say Quaker will extend its contract for one year and then be done as shirt sponsor.
While Fire COO Atul Khosla said Monday that "we've had good dialogue with Quaker," officials for Quaker declined to comment.
If Quaker is not back next season, it would be a devastating blow to the organization, and it's not just about the money. There's the psychological toll of having another shirt sponsor (following Best Buy) decide it can find better ways to spend its money.
If the Fire wants to show it's relevant in Chicago's business community and in MLS, a shirt sponsor is a key way to do it. The team can't afford to spend a year or two wandering the sponsorship desert.
Nobody wants to be associated with a loser, and Quake would be wise to insist the money from a renewed contract be invested in better players. There's no better way to bring attention to the jersey than to have someone like Miroslav Klose or Jozy Altidore modeling it.
Improve the talent level:
Technical director Brian Bliss and coach/director of soccer Frank Yallop have been working on bringing more players to Chicago, either on loan or transfer. They are looking to Europe, a change from the previous regime's focus on Latin America.
The guess here is they'll prioritize an attacking player rather than a defender, but don't expect them to make a big splash when the MLS summer transfer window opens July 8. Owner Andrew Hauptman is unlikely to approve an attention-getting signing like Michael Bradley ($6.5 million this year) and Jermaine Defoe ($6.2 million) were for Toronto FC or Clint Dempsey ($6.7 million) for Seattle.
The Fire is more likely to bring in someone as a cost between $500,000 and $750,000 over the second half of the season. The Fire is down to 24 players on its active roster, not including loaned out players Victor Pineda and Alec Kann, so there are open spots.
Disappointed? The TV networks and MLS officials might be as well. And Quaker.
By the way, on a points-per-game basis, Seattle and Toronto are the two best teams in the league so far. And both teams are attracting far more fans to home games than the Fire does, despite the Fire's attendance increase over this point last season. the investments by Toronto and Seattle seem to be paying off.
Develop a winning mentality:
The Fire has just two victories in 14 games this season, and it has shown a maddening ability to snatch a draw (or even a defeat) from the jaws of victory. That seems to be as much a mental lack of focus as much as physical ability or effort. Yallop and captain Jeff Larentowicz have a lot of work ahead to fix this. It won't be easy, if Yallop's profanity-filled tirade at Monday's training session is any indication.
Shore up the defense:
With one shutout in MLS play, goalkeeper Sean Johnson's goals-against average ranks near the bottom of the league. Whether by trade within MLS or by bringing in a player from outside, something needs to be done to show the Fire is not writing off the season. Most likely, it will be a new central defender.
Get Magee and Nyarko going:
Maybe the Fire's two best players -- and two of its highest paid -- Magee and Nyarko have combined to miss 11 MLS games, and Nyarko will miss at least another game or two. Each can make things happen when he plays. Yallop and strength and conditioning coach Tony Jouaux have to get both men on the field and keep them there.
• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@Orrin_Schwarz.