Despite losing its first home game of the season Saturday, despite losing five of its last six, the Chicago Fire is far from panic mode.
Saturday's 3-1 loss to first-place Toronto FC in front of a record crowd of 21,891 fans at Toyota Park does mean it's time for concern, however.
"If you don't win games, don't make points, in a way, yes," Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. "There are certain moments in the game where we are actually playing well, but we just make sloppy mistakes, wrong positions and then the other teams have creative offensive players who can use this kind of sloppiness. And then they score goals."
"It happens," midfielder Dax McCarty added about the team's skid. "We're not as good of a team as the 11-game unbeaten streak (in May and June) and we're not as bad of a team as this streak we're on right now. We're somewhere in the middle. Just got to stay positive. Do the things that we were doing that made us a good team before the Gold Cup break (in July)."
Schweinsteiger agreed that the Fire is finding its level.
"We played a first half of the season over (our heads)," the German superstar said, searching for the right English terms. "So we did a great job. Now we can see what we are missing in our game and we have to find a way to come back and to win again. We have to play all of it on a better level."
There is no one thing the Fire has to change, however. Maybe the players are tired, maybe other teams have figured out how to play against them.
"We've just got to be better," McCarty said. "We've got to get back to what we were doing before the Gold Cup break. Just got to defend better, I think."
"It's all," Schweinsteiger added.
It's not injuries, said coach Veljko Paunovic, refusing to use that excuse despite playing without three of his four regular defenders. Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster and Joao Meira are expected back soon.
Whatever the reason, the third-place Fire (12-8-5, 41 points) missed a golden opportunity to make up ground on Toronto (14-3-8, 50 points) in the Supporters' Shield standings, falling 9 points back. But McCarty isn't ready to say the Fire is out of the Shield race.
"No, I don't think so," he said. "Anything can happen in MLS and I think we've seen that."
Chicago tied the game at 1-1 in the 54th minute when McCarty dribbled to the touchline and passed back to Schweinsteiger 7 yards beyond the penalty area. Schweinsteiger's blast hit the left post and rebounded to David Accam, who managed to get in front of the ball and redirect it into the net.
Toronto reclaimed the lead in the 63rd on a Nicolas Hasler goal. Sebastian Giovinco's 90th-minute goal sealed the 3 points for Toronto.
"It was a tough loss," Paunovic said. "We have to look forward and to come back next week with the best possible recovery and the best possible mindset in order to understand that we have now (three of the next four) games at home, important games in the next stretch and these games we target as must-win games, obviously."
Fortunately for the Fire, the next match is back at Toyota Park next Saturday against Minnesota United, which is winless in road games and is generally playing like the expansion side it is.
"We have to win this match on Saturday," Schweinsteiger said. "That's all we have to do. We have to think about it."