The year 2016 never figured to be much more than a rebuilding year for the Chicago Fire. With a new coach, a new General Manager, and only ten returning players, it is hard to expect anything else. And while progress has been made, arguably quicker than anyone would have expected, the team still has some obvious problems. The Men in Red are starting four newcomers on defense, as well as a new goalkeeper and the lack of chemistry has been glaring. Teams have noticed and thus far into the very, very young season opponents have not been shy about throwing players forward to overwhelm the Fire’s novice defense often presenting the Fire with ample opportunities for counterattacks.
David Accam Leads Counter-Attack
Enter David Accam, stage left. The speedy Ghanaian international has been simply electrifying this year as well as last year (his first season in Chicago). He has two goals in two contests thus far and tallied ten goals in 2015, no small task considering how handicapped the Fire attack was last season. His electrifying play was arguably the only bright spot in a 2015 campaign that saw the club finish last in MLS. The star of “King David” even shone bright enough to land him a spot on the Ghanaian national team where he has one goal in five appearances.
In a year where Chicago could be hunkering down on defense more often than not, Accam and other attackers such as Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike could be key to the Fire’s return to relevance. Realistically, until the defense and midfield get more playing time as a unit, the Fire cannot realistically out-possess too many teams in MLS. There is, however, more than one way to skin a cat.
Accam is Fast, Real Fast
With the speed that the Accam-headlined attack possesses, Chicago has the potential to be the best counterattacking team in MLS. Against New York City FC, the Fire looked threatening on the counter all day. However they were thwarted by some frankly incredible goalkeeping from Josh Saunders. In Orlando, Chicago was hunkered down in their own end when a desperate clearance unexpectedly turned into an Orlando-vs-David Accam footrace as the Ghanaian outran two defenders to win the long ball, slipping it past Joe Bendik and into the bottom corner of the net in the process. The entire sequence took no more than ten seconds and has gained David Accam internet notoriety.
Accam is an instantly noticeable talent on the pitch. Still a relatively unknown name in MLS, his play is quick to grab the attention of both Fire fans and opposing fans alike. He is ridiculously quick, but an underrated aspect of his game is his defensive instinct and his ability to create turnovers in dangerous places. New York City fans may have found his assist to Igboananike in Chicago’s home opener two weeks ago annoyingly familiar to Chicago’s goal vs. City a year earlier where Accam dispossessed Saunders to score the game’s lone tally.
Is it troubling that Chicago must be one of “those” teams that rely on counters to stay in games? Sure, but much like their namesake, the Chicago Fire had burned everything to the ground last year. Rebuilding is never easy, but with David Accam at the helm, that process is progressing quicker than expected. As teams learn to respect his speed more and more, pressure will alleviate on the struggling defense, giving them and the midfield room to both breathe and play the style of football that skipper Veljko Paunovic hopes to play.