It was looking like it was going to be a fantastic night for all Fire fans. Not only was Soldier Field offering free tickets and Chicago was providing warm weather, but the Fire also looked like they were hungry for 3 points in the first half.
Looking back on the match, Fire fans can be extremely pleased with their team’s performance in the opening period. The Fire dominated the ball and were playing some really nice soccer. Enjoying my seat behind Chris Brady’s net in the first half, I watched the Fire swing the ball from coast to coast, dictate the match, create chances, and thwart the few chances that Philly created.
Philly did not step super high on the Fire in the first half, and when they did, the Fire were able to break the visitor’s press. The Fire have enjoyed success in building out of the back this season, and so much credit has to be given to the center-back pairing of Rafa Czichos and Carlos Terán. Not only are they incredibly composed, but their range and quality of pass are also superb.
Technically sound center-backs are some of the most valuable players in world soccer just because of how the game is continuing to evolve. The demand for ball-playing center-backs has never been higher, and as I continue to watch Czichos play alongside Terán, I am continually convinced that the Fire has perfectly fulfilled this demand.
In terms of the Fire going forward in the first half, I can only really say positive things. The Fire barely let the Union formulate anything going forward just because of how well they kept the ball. Part of this is due to the Union not committing to a super intense press, but we cannot take away from how the Fire dictated the match in the first half.
The Union struggled to get a foothold on the match while the Fire moved the ball around the visitors with pleasurable ease. Like they did in their encounter against the Fire in March, the Union played a midfield diamond of 4 central midfielders. In doing so, the Union’s defensive effort was focused on the middle areas of the pitch.
Realizing this, the Fire did a splendid job of exploiting the Union’s defense. Although the Union’s defensive presence in the middle of the pitch was most notable, most of the Fire’s attacks started in central areas, either with the center-backs or with the holding midfielders before getting the ball wide.
Just outside the Union’s 18-yard box, there was almost no space in the middle of the park, forcing the Fire to create all of its attacking chances from wide. Apart from Souquet’s wild and inaccurate crosses that seem to occur weekly, the Fire looked dangerous when creating from the wings.
Not only did the Fire’s first goal of the match come from a fullback’s cross into the box, but the Fire time and time again dominated advanced wide positions while creating dangerous attacking scenarios.
The Fire’s dominance of the match continued into the early periods of the second half as they continued to control possession. In continuing to make their presence known in the attacking third, the Fire doubled their advantage off of a fluke own goal.
However, now sitting on a 2-0 lead, Fire fans could only fear the worst. The story of the Fire’s season thus far has been giving up points that have been rightfully theirs. Leading up to the Philly match, the Fire had blown both of their 2-0 leads.
Following the own goal, Chicago continued their positive performance and provided the home fans with a temporary sense of calm and contentment. It only took up until the 58th minute for these feelings to turn into ones of anxiety and worry. Carlos Terán, who in my opinion was the Fire’s MOTM thus far, was unfortunately subbed off with an injury.
Following the substitution of the Colombian, it took Philly just four minutes to make the match 2-1 and then another three to level the match at two apiece.
So what happened? The Fire lost their heads and their rhythm. Firstly, the Fire gave up a terribly foolish penalty. Union striker Uhre won the penalty after being sandwiched by Czichos and Navarro. With his back to goal and almost at the byline, the striker had nowhere to go. However, Navarro still took an incredibly wild swing that swept Uhre from his feet and conceded a penalty.
In his player ratings, Christian hit on this, but Ezra Hendrickson needs to do something to calm the mentality of his players. Not only did Navarro lose his head in this moment and concede the penalty, but was also involved in multiple shoving matches throughout the second half. In the face of adversity, the Fire struggle to cope. In this case, following the injury of the Fire’s defensive backbone, panic, anxiety, and a lack of discipline overcame the Fire.
A well-oiled team in terms of mentality would use adversity such as this to come together and fight back stronger. It was most certainly the opposite of the Fire on Saturday night.
On top of conceding the equalizer as a result of failing to regroup and recompose, Hendrickson made some extremely suspect changes. Following the equalizer, Brian Gutiérrez and Kei Kamara, arguably the Fire’s two important attacking players, were replaced by Georgios Koustias and Xherdan Shaqiri. Although the two substitutes nearly linked up for a beautiful goal late in the match, Fire fans were left scratching their heads by the change.
I thought that Guti was having a very solid game and was crucial to the Fire’s dominance on the ball during the first 60 minutes of the match. Not only this, but Shaq had been injured since the last matchup against Philly, hence it felt unreasonable to give him his first run out with so much time left in the match. Philly had now established dominance in the match, and it was the Fire’s game to chase. An even further reason not to pull the energetic Guti for Shaq. Not only is he not at 100% quite yet, but it has been proven in the past that Shaq’s defensive effort is nowhere near that of the energetic teenager.
Although Kamara was quiet on the night, he has been the Fire’s top player in terms of attacking output thus far this season. Fire fans such as myself would have certainly liked to have seen him get at least 15 more minutes to produce another moment of magic.
The Fire truly failed to come back from the quick 1-2 punch that the Union delivered in the minutes following Téran’s departure. They fell flat and never were able to reestablish the dominance that they had in the first half.
If the Fire continue to falter at the last hurdle and never finish out matches as they start them, then it is going to be a long season once again for Chicago.