Mistakes at the back nearly spoiled the Fire’s night in the first half on Saturday night. Carlos Terán, who has been so solid the past few weeks had a nightmare performance before he was eventually replaced by Mauricio Pineda due to a first-half injury.
On the same day that the Colombian renewed his Fire contract to 2027, he made two critical mistakes that led to golden opportunities for the Red Bulls. Thanks to a critical save from Chris Brady and the woodwork of the goal, however, the Red Bulls failed to convert on either of these chances and left Chicago unscathed.
Beyond these two moments of terror and Rafa Czichos’ near send-off in the first half, however, it was a relatively positive first 45 minutes for the hosts.
Going forward, the Fire looked extremely dangerous with their quick passing moves. The reintroduction of Fede Navarro to the starting XI was most certainly crucial to this. The young and talented midfielder pulled the strings for the Fire from deep parts of the midfield and dictated the flow of possession.
The trio of Gastón Giménez, Brian Gutiérrez, and Fede all showed their technical class in the middle of the park and had the Red Bulls chasing shadows with their passing moves in the first half.
Kei Kamara was again excellent in getting involved in these moves. Serving as the Fire’s hold-up man, the Red Bulls’ 3 center-halves had their hands tied in regard to coping with his raw strength and size.
Maren Haile-Selassie and Arnaud Souquet again combined well on the right-hand side. The two moved well off of one another and were successful in progressing the ball to create crossing and scoring opportunities in the first half.
The two most notably combined to create Kamara’s first-half goal. The two worked a one-two around the Red Bulls’ defense that found Souquet in great space to pick out a cross. The delivery was great and the header from Kamara was even better and the Fire had the lead 34 minutes in.
After the break, the Fire started the second half as they had ended the first. They continued to dominate possession and dictate their opponents as a result.
About 15 minutes into the second half, however, the game would turn completely on its head due to a tactical disaster-class from Ezra Hendrickson.
Just returning from an injury, you can partially understand why Ezra decided to pull Fede Navarro at just the 62nd-minute mark. However, the match was still only at 1-0, and Fede had been the Fire’s most influential midfield player thus far.
Christian Hirschboeck nailed it in his player ratings in noting that “directly after coming on [Fabian Herbers for Fede], possession violently shifted in favor of New York.” From this point until the final whistle, New York dominated the match in all aspects from possession to scoring chances.
However, instead of attempting to take the game by the scruff of the neck and turn the momentum of the match around, Ezra decided to sede to New York’s dominance and park the bus in order to preserve their one-goal advantage.
He made his intent clear in the 73rd minute when he introduced a fourth full-back to the match. For the final 20 minutes of the match, the Fire played with four full-backs, a gassed 38-year-old striker, and a lifeless Shaqiri.
It was the exact opposite of what the Fire needed in terms of personnel out on the field. The Fire needed energy and some sort of spark to turn the game around. When you bring on substitutes like a third and fourth fullback and a lazy Shaqiri instead of attack-minded players that run for every ball like Georgios Koustias and Jairo Torres (unused subs), you almost are inviting your opponents to attack you.
Ezra sent this message of a lack of ambition through the changes that he made and it was ultimately these changes that cost the Fire the match. The Fire were totally outplayed and outclassed for the final 30 minutes of the match and were defending for their lives.
When you rely on coming together to defend as a unit of 11 for a whole half hour, every piece has to be in place, and there can be no cracks and most certainly no mistakes. Aside from the mistakes that Ezra made in terms of tactical changes, it was New York’s overbearing presence and an error from Chris Brady that cost the Fire the points and the match.
What’s to be learned from this is that Ezra has to be more ambitious as a coach when his team is in front. We have seen the Fire time and time again blow leads and drop points as a result of playing on the back foot and hoping to see out the match defensively. Although the Fire is certainly a solid side, they are just simply not good enough defensively to defend for 30 minutes straight with no ambition to score. Plain and simple, it will cost them points as it did on Saturday.