Back to square one.
Despite an encouraging first half lead, the Chicago Fire once again tumbled to defeat against Charlotte FC, bringing an end to Head Coach Frank Klopas’ honeymoon period. It was a frustrating evening against a frustrating Charlotte team, and ultimately, some individual mistakes on the left hand side cost the Fire in a 2-1 loss.
Klopas looked to build off of a pair of emotional home wins over St. Louis with a strong lineup in Charlotte. There were just three changes to the team that won on Saturday at Soldier Field; Maren Haile-Selassie returned to the team in place of Fabian Herbers, captain Rafa Czichos stepped in for injured Carlos Terán, and Kei Kamara earned a well-deserved rest at striker, making way for Kacper Przybyłko.
Charlotte had total control in the opening stages. Midway through the first half, the hosts maintained 87% possession, and the Fire hardly saw any of the ball. However, Chicago remained well-organized defensively, and despite Charlotte’s dominance of possession, they hardly got any shots. In the entire half, they only managed two shots, and not one on target.
It was the Fire who actually had the chances, making the most of their limited possession. Brian Gutiérrez won the ball high up the final and had an opportunity on a counter attack, but was too unselfish, and the play fizzled out when he tried to set up Xherdan Shaqiri in the middle. Gutiérrez once again started on the left wing, with Shaqiri through the middle, but the attack played with fluidity and freedom that allowed the 19-year-old to drift inside and combine.
Doing so created a great opportunity a few minutes later. Gutiérrez played the ball to Shaqiri, who put the ball on a platter for Przybyłko one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The Polish number nine, who has admittedly had a very rough time in Chicago over the past two seasons, saw his initial effort saved, but he was extremely fortunate that the rebound fell to him, and he was able to score on the second attempt.
Behind Gutiérrez’s creativity and a reborn Shaqiri, the Fire looked extremely dangerous on the counter attack in the final minutes of the first half. They entered the break 1-0 up on the road over a difficult opponent, dominant in xG 1.36-0.26 despite having significantly less possession.
Unfortunately for the Fire, it wouldn’t last forever. Charlotte maintained most of the ball to start the second half and their opponents began to tire. Substitute Brandon Cambridge was left unmarked inside the penalty box, and he curled the ball into the far corner to score his first professional goal and tie the game at one apiece.
The run-down Fire had to battle through the final twenty minutes. After finally returning to the field last weekend, Jairo Torres made an appearance on the wing, though the DP struggled to make an impact in his cameo. Chris Brady made a big save on Jan Cobocinski, preserving the tied score in the 73rd minute, but it was all Charlotte. Their continued dominance paid off in the 82nd minute, when Cambridge found his second to complete the comeback. Once again, the 21-year-old was left wide open on the right side of the penalty box, with Alonso Aceves losing his mark leaving Brady stranded in goal.
There was nothing the Fire could do to get back into the game, and it ended 2-1. Once again, the Fire found themselves with a defeat after a game in which they spent a long time in a winning position. In truth, Charlotte were the better team in this game, and probably deserved not to lose, but the Fire’s lack of offense in the second half was certainly concerning. For Klopas’ team, there are still some key areas to figure out on both ends of the field, and with the games coming thick and fast, they’ll have to do so quickly.
The Chicago Fire return home to face Atlanta United this Saturday at 7:30 PM CT.