The Fire’s first-half performance is what earned them their first home victory of the season. Minnesota did not press the Fire high in the opening period, and Chicago took full advantage of this. The visitor’s low defensive block invited the Fire to not only possess the ball but to also advance it up the pitch.
Minnesota were playing with fire as they allowed the Fire to possess the ball in these advanced areas. By giving the Fire this liberty, Minnesota would ultimately concede the two goals that lost them the game.
On Kamara’s first goal, Minnesota had 8 of their 10 field players packed into their own box. On the second, nobody in Minnesota’s defensive block stepped to Arnaud Souquet. As a result, the Frenchman had all the time and space in the world to whip in a cross that would connect with the head of Kei Kamara to complete his first-half brace.
Going forward, Minnesota would attack in a 4-2-3-1, but like the Fire would shape up defensively in a 4-4-2. Time and time again throughout the first half, the Fire’s front 4 would expose the space in between Minnesota’s defensive and midfield lines. Dynamic runs into these spaces to receive the ball were crucial to the Fire’s success in the first half.
The Fire’s movement off of the right-hand side was especially dynamic. Right winger Maren Haile-Selassie continually came centrally and would be able to pick up the ball in these spaces in between the lines. With Haile-Selassie coming central, fullback Arnaud Souquet was given the space to fly down the right side and get into advanced positions out wide.
The Fire’s collective mission to keep the ball and play a possession-based game certainly paid off. The team was diligent in keeping the ball and did not concede possession carelessly (especially in the first half) as they have in past matches.
Individually, however, Kei Kamara stuck out. Obviously, his brace is what earned him the MOTM award and his team all three points, but his hold-up play most certainly did not go unnoticed. The veteran consistently was able to control the ball with his back to goal and lay it off to the quicker and more technical players in midfield and on the wings. In doing so, he was able to kick-start many Fire attacks. By holding up the ball in tough positions, he would provide his teammates time to flood forward to attack Minnesota at pace and in numbers.
Up until Minnesota’s fluke goal, the Fire were incredibly organized defensively and didn’t really let Minnesota test Chris Brady. With the Fire committing so many numbers forward, Chicago was susceptible to many counter attack opportunities. The pace of the Fire’s backline and the power of the center-back duo of Czichos and Téran however thwarted these threats.
Following the fluke goal however, the Fire lost the plot and the remaining 30 minutes of the match turned into a nail-biter for Fire supporters.
After reducing the deficit to just one goal with so much time left, Minnesota felt that they could salvage the points. Minnesota began playing with a newly inspired confidence; the visitors began to take the game by the scruff of the neck as they began to dominate possession and create clear cut chances for themselves.
While a large reason for this was a shift in momentum, much of it can be accredited to the Fire’s change in tactical mindset. The Fire made the mistake that Minnesota made in the first half of sitting off of their opponents, hoping to not concede a goal. This is exactly what the Fire did. Ten minutes after conceding the goal, the Fire switched into a 5 back. In doing so, the Fire invited Minnesota’s attacking presence, and were defending for their lives up until the final whistle.
While this move makes sense in order to protect the points, it is always a risky game to give your opponents, who have the hot hand, the gift of going at you time and time again. This is exactly what Minnesota did as they were able dominate the attacking third and create themselves chances. Not just chances, but also set-piece opportunities in dangerous areas. If it weren’t for an amazing double save from Chris Brady in the 86th minute, it looked as if the Fire were going to blow their third 2-0 lead of the season.
Although it was a well-managed game from Ezra, especially with his decision to start Kamara up front as the lone striker, one thing that he can be faulted for is getting complacent with the one goal lead. The Fire were playing well in the 4-2-3-1 from the kickoff and switching the system completely changed the dynamic of the match. The Fire were no longer playing on the front foot, but rather letting their opponents dictate the flow of the game. As I said, there is nothing wrong with switching shape to protect a lead, the change seemed premature in this match. Riding out the 4 back for longer could have saved Fire fans a lot of grief and anxiety.