A perfect way to end a perfect week.
The Chicago Fire firmly reinstated themselves in the MLS playoff race as they defeated Toronto FC 1-0 in dramatic fashion. A late goal from an unlikely hero ensured that the Men in Red completed their homestand with nine points from a possible nine, doing so without conceding a single goal.
With just one small tweak to the lineup that beat Montréal 3-0 during the week, Frank Klopas decided to stick with what was working. Chris Brady started in goal, with Miguel Ángel Navarro, Rafa Czichos, and Mauricio Pineda returning in the backline, though Arnaud Souquet was replaced at right back by Jonathan Dean. The rest was unchanged, as Gastón Giménez and Fabian Herbers made up the midfield, and Brian Gutiérrez, Xherdan Shaqiri, Maren Haile-Selassie, and Georgios Koutsias returning as the front four. It was the third successive start up top for the Greek forward, whose ascent continued with a pair of assists in the previous match.
The Fire couldn’t match the fast start they had on Wednesday but were still by far the better and more dominant team in the first half. Toronto hardly got a look, and without star Italian DPs Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi couldn’t produce anything going forward.
On the other end of the field, the Fire also lacked end product, though they had more of the ball. An optimistic flick from Herbers and a close shot from Shaqiri represented the best opportunities to score, but the former was straight at Sean Johnson, and the latter whistled just wide of the post. Czichos and Pineda were excellent, holding down the back line, and the creativity of Gutiérrez was a bright spot, but it wasn’t enough to result in a goal.
After a good first half shift, Koutsias was taken off after 45 minutes. Recently-named MLS All-Star Kei Kamara came on in his place, providing something different at the center forward position. Opportunities did come at the start of the half, with an ambitious Shaqiri overhead kick attempt catching the eye and a sneaky Kamara attempt at the near post nearly catching Johnson off guard. However, the game quickly died down again. Nonetheless, Shaqiri’s attempt was a sign of his newfound confidence since scoring a wonder-goal against Montréal during the week.
Kamara continued to be active since his introduction and produced another good opportunity midway through the half when he tested Johnson with another shot at the near post. A few minutes later, a counter-attack sparked an opportunity for Gutiérrez before the last defender brought him down, but no call was made. A strong case could have been made for a red card and a free-kick in a dangerous position, but Toronto got away with it.
After being left out of the matchday squad altogether on Wednesday, Kacper Przybyłko was introduced as a late substitute chasing the three points. Incredibly, it paid off. A 90th-minute cross from Navarro found the head of Przybyłko, and the ball was in the back of the net. The nearly 19,000 fans in attendance erupted in celebration, and the Fire stole three points in an unlikely fashion.
Now, the Fire are firmly three points above the playoff line and climb to eighth in the East. Klopas’ team has turned things around with five wins from their last six and are alive and kicking. This stretch is arguably the best since the late playoff push at the end of the 2019 season, and there’s no better way to enter the Leagues Cup break.
The Fire now have a few weeks off, but will return after the All-Star game for their Leagues Cup opener against Minnesota United on July 27th.