After what has ultimately been an abysmal start to the MLS season, with the team sitting second to bottom in the East, the cup looked like the Fire’s best shot at any type of silverware this campaign. Knowing this, the Fire fielded a full-strength XI in their newfound 3-4-3 system in this crucial win-or-go-home match. Despite dominating the match in many aspects, most notably possession, the Fire fell far short and were humiliated at Bridgeview.
The most notable inclusion in the Fire’s starting lineup was the decision to play both Brian Gutiérrez and Xherdan Shaqiri. The two played as the two wide players in the front three but almost operated as two wide number tens. The creative duo was never played in behind or over the top but rather to feet in midfield. By having Shaq and Guti check deep for the ball, the Fire were trying to create spaces in more advanced areas for wingbacks Maren Haile-Selassie and Miguel Ángel Navarro to take advantage of.
While on paper, this makes a lot of sense and can be extremely effective if executed properly, the Fire struggled to establish a presence in the attacking third when in possession. Despite possessing the ball for two-thirds of the match, the Fire really struggled to break lines and progress the ball into dangerous areas. A lot of credit, however, has to go to the Dynamo’s press/counter-press. Not only were the visitors incredibly organized in this defensive effort, but also utilized the speed of players such as Nelson Quiñónes, Luis Caicedo, Ibrahim Aliyu, and Adalberto Carrasqulla to really put the Fire under pressure and prevent them from progressing forward.
The visitor’s press was incredibly effective in the sense that it forced the Fire to almost exclusively build down the left-hand side. With Arnaud Souquet and MHS pinned on the right wing in advanced positions during the buildout, it was evident that the Fire wanted to release the two quick players to produce some attacking threat. However, the Dynamo made sure that the two almost never touched the ball in the first half, extremely hindering Chicago from making much forward progress in possession.
The few times the Fire were able to find success in breaking down the Dynamo’s press would be when Guti would receive the ball in between the lines to free up space for Miggy down the left. It was a very unthreatening first half from the Fire, except a few moments down that left flank.
What amplified the organization of the Dynamo was how quickly they were able to turn defense into attack and hit the Fire on the counter. Incredibly patient in their defense and never to be beaten by stepping in rashly or getting pulled out of position, the Dynamo did a great job in forcing Fire turnovers: especially when the Fire would find themselves in attacking midfield/the final third. With lots of numbers forward, especially after the Fire found themselves chasing the match, the Dynamo were able to expose what was ultimately a leaky defensive effort from the Fire.
What could have certainly prevented goals three and four, however, was the missed-penalty call on Brian Gutiérrez early in the second half. After getting cleared out by the Dynamo’s keeper, Guti and the Fire were not awarded a clear and obvious penalty, which provoked angry Fire fans to begin hurling down beers, sodas, and other objects onto the pitch. This was by far the turning point in the match. When Guti was taken down by the keeper, the Dynamo had just a one-goal advantage, and a converted penalty would have tied the match. With the game on level terms as opposed to being behind the cosh, the Fire would have certainly taken a more conservative approach to the remainder of the second half and would not have played with such a high line/pushed so many players forward. Ultimately, the missed call and the resulting 2-1 deficit plagued the Fire and led to the conceding of two high-speed counter-attack goals.
Beyond the referee, the Fire’s biggest problem on the night was their inability to turn their possession into attacking progress and chances. The Fire have continued to struggle to create chances without the presence of a true central number ten that they would deploy in the old 4-2-3-1 system. After a bright start in the new five-back system against Austin in the cup, it has pretty much been downhill from there, and the Fire have been winless since. If the Fire continue their struggle to create chances, it could be a sign to Klopas that he has to revert back to the old system. After all, it is in the team’s blood after having played it religiously under Ezra Hendrickson.