After another losing season, Chicago Fire badly in need of a fresh start

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe (11) fends of Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty (6) as Rowe makes a move to the goal during the first half of their MLS Soccer match, Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass.

    New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe (11) fends of Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty (6) as Rowe makes a move to the goal during the first half of their MLS Soccer match, Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass.

  • Chicago Fire president/general manager Nelson Rodriguez took the blame for a bad 2018 season, as did coach Veljko Paunovic, but the Fire's struggles go back nine years.

    Chicago Fire president/general manager Nelson Rodriguez took the blame for a bad 2018 season, as did coach Veljko Paunovic, but the Fire's struggles go back nine years. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/2/2018 4:25 PM

The Chicago Fire has played nine consecutive seasons without winning a playoff game.

The team has only played in two playoff games since 2009. The Fire has scored 1 playoff goal in nine years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With one season left to play, the 2010s are on the verge of becoming known as the Chicago Fire's lost decade.

It was good that coach Veljko Paunovic took blame for this season after Sunday's final 2018 game. The Fire (8-18-8, 32 points) finished 10th in the 11-team Eastern Conference. Like any coach of a losing team, he deserves some blame.

President/general manager Nelson Rodriguez was right to accept blame Thursday when he met the media for his final session of the season. The roster had obvious holes at goalkeeper, central defense and attacking midfielder from the start.

"I am responsible," Rodriguez said, admitting to a lack of urgency in finding players. "I didn't do a good enough job. No one should blame ownership; we have all the resources that we need to succeed. It's not the fault of the coaches or the staff. This season has my fingerprints on it."

But both men have been in Chicago only three seasons. The Fire has been losing for nine, with two brief, unsustained exceptions. There were problems that predate both Paunovic and Rodriguez, and it appears those problems remain.

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Meanwhile, ownership remains silent.

Rodriguez said he hopes Paunovic will be back in 2019, the fourth season for each of them. Paunovic indicated Sunday he wanted to come back. Rodriguez said he has not met with the coach since Sunday's final game and won't until next week after Paunovic returns from an overseas scouting trip.

"It's hard for me to talk about what came before, and I know that what I say next will sound self-serving," Rodriguez said, "but one thing is we need stability. We have a plan. We have a vision. Nobody wants it to take a long time. I think public reaction doesn't allow there to be a lot of time. But stability will be important."

But three seasons -- never mind nine -- are a long time in professional sports, and this club's record the last three seasons has been as bad or worse than ever. Whether Paunovic returns as coach or not, the last nine seasons tell us it might not make a significant difference.

Maybe the Fire will surprise everyone next season. Maybe the next transfer window will be as exciting as the last three were sleepy. Rodriguez might have accepted blame, but he gave no indication he will change the way he values international players and decides which players to sign.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We can't come up empty-handed," he said. "I also think that we can't be reactionary. ... There will be some who will see me as rigid, OK? I prefer to see myself as disciplined."

Sunday's final game of the season also was the final game at Toyota Park before it's renamed SeatGeek Stadium.

That's fitting, because if any MLS club needs a fresh start it's the Chicago franchise. But the Fire needs much more than a cosmetic change.

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