The Chicago Fire were the better team today as they dominated St. Louis City in an entertaining clash at Soldier Field to win 1-0. The Men in Red got the best of the MLS expansion side, ensuring that they went perfect through the two inaugural meetings between two budding Midwestern rivals.
For Klopas’ first MLS game back in charge, he went with what was pretty much his strongest available eleven. Chris Brady returned between the sticks after being rested midweek, Carlos Terán returned from injury to partner Mauricio Pineda at center back, while the midfield comprised of the first choice duo of Gastón Giménez and Fede Navarro. Xherdan Shaqiri once again started as the #10, with Brian Gutiérrez reprising his role on the left wing and Fabian Herbers stepping in for the injured Chris Mueller and Maren Haile-Selassie on the right behind Kei Kamara.
There was early action on both ends, with both teams very familiar with the other. Having met in the U.S. Open Cup earlier this week, St. Louis’ desire for revenge only added to what was already going to be a spicy first-ever MLS matchup between two teams that are just a few hours apart. The visitors’ marquee goalkeeper, former Dortmund #1 Roman Bürki, made several big saves in the opening period to keep the game scoreless, and the Fire looked like the better team.
An injury to Terán changed the course of the game, as it would unfold, in favor of the Fire. While Terán was having a great start to the match, thwarting numerous St. Louis attacks, he came off with an injury grabbing his injured leg, and was replaced by Rafa Czichos in the 34th minute. Six minutes later, that substitution would pay off.
The team’s two most talented attackers, Gutiérrez and Shaqiri, both had bright starts to the game. Shaqiri was looking more confident than he has all year, and was making turns and passes that he’s struggled to do for the majority of this season, and Gutiérrez was finding lots of space in the attack. Gutiérrez was causing all sorts of trouble for the opposition and won a free kick in a dangerous position in the 40th minute. Shaqiri’s ensuing kick found a free Czichos at the back post, who managed to bundle the ball past elegantly past Bürki, who was beaten at last.
In the second half, things continued going the Fire’s way. Not long after the hour mark, defender Johnny Nelson received a second yellow card; he was sent off, and St. Louis were reduced to ten men following the first red card in the history of the club. The traveling supporters were out in force, visiting the Windy City from Missouri, but they could only watch from the upper deck as the result slowly slipped away.
With former Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson now in the past, the Fire were seemingly able to boil eggs rather than potatoes. Being up a man certainly helped, but the Fire managed to finally close out the win. Klopas team effectively sustained late pressure from St. Louis, and the final whistle blew with the score still 1-0.
This win could be a turning point for the Fire. Two emotional victories over a fierce regional opponent should provide the boost they need to get their season back on track. What’s clear is that Frank Klopas has successfully navigated what’s undoubtedly been a tumultuous period for the team, and hopefully now, they can get out on the other side and make a push for the playoffs.