After the 3-0 embarrassment in Nashville and all of the ensuing drama that followed the match, the Fire came out firing on all cylinders for their new interim manager and opened up the scoring just three minutes into the match through Maren Haile-Selassie.
Ezra Hendrickson’s successor, Frank Klopas, lined the team up in the system that the Fire have been playing all season long (4-2-3-1). After resting so many starters against Nashville, it was a full-strength Fire team. The only changes to the Fire’s typical starting XI were at center-back, where Wyatt Omsberg and Mauricio Pineda replaced the injured Carlos Terán and Rafa Czichos, while Spencer Richey took Chris Brady’s spot in between the sticks.
What certainly caught the attention of all Fire fans however was the inclusion of both Brian Gutiérrez and Xherdan Shaqiri in the starting XI. For the last four league matches, it has been either Shaq or Guti as the Fire’s number ten. For 3 of these matches, Guti has gotten the nod while Shaq has come in off of the bench. Against Nashville however, it was Guti who was rested while Shaq started at the ten.
Against St. Louis, Shaqiri operated centrally while Guti played as the Fire’s left winger/midfielder. This is the first time that we have seen the two start side by side since the home opener against NYCFC.
The veteran and the homegrown product performed well on the night and proved to Klopas that he made the right decision in starting the two side by side. Shaqiri played his best match of the season thus far while Guti put in another MOTM performance as he added another assist to his tally.
Even in his secondary position as a winger, Guti still managed to be the Fire’s most influential attacking player. On top of his assist, the youngster created four chances for the Fire throughout the match as he continued to show technical excellence on the ball. The 19-year-old has certainly come to life this season and has established himself as the Fire’s most dangerous and crafty playmaker.
So long as Guti is able to keep up his production in the attacking third and continue to deliver performances as he did on Tuesday night, it is safe to say that he will be a lineup lock for the Fire in the near future even with the changing in manager.
As Guti and Kei Kamara continue to prove their worth, just two attacking positions in the Fire’s 4-2-3-1 system remain up for grabs. Georgios Koutsias, Chris Mueller, MHS, and Shaq are all candidates, and while we have seen bright moments from Chris Mueller in the early weeks of the season and MHS as of late, none of these 4 have played well enough consistently to lock in a starting spot.
If the Fire want to continue to get results like in Tuesday’s match, more of these players need to step up and match the output and performance levels of Guti and Kamara.
Focusing on Tuesday’s match, however, the Fire came together as a team and collectively played probably their best match of the season. Apart from the goal that I will dub as a goalkeeper error, the Fire defended as a unit extremely well and didn’t concede any glaringly open chances. Without the leadership and quality of Czichos and Terán, players such as Miguel Ángel Navarro and Mauricio Pineda really stepped up and took the match by the scruff of the neck as they kept things tight at the back.
Although the Fire were a little bit under the cosh in the closing stages of the second half as St. Louis pushed for a goal, the Fire were able to repel St. Louis for the majority of the match. St. Louis struggled to break lines and carve out clear-cut chances and were only able to find a way back into the match through a set-piece in the 93rd minute.
Fede Navarro looked back to his normal self as he was crucial to the Fire’s defensive performance. The midfielder blocked so many passes in the middle of the park and won 12 duels. His presence and energy was unmatched and the Fire will certainly be glad to have him back.
Alongside Gastón, the two played extremely well in the double pivot. The high energy of Fede complimented the composed and experienced Gastón, which provided an assertive presence in central midfield. Even though St. Louis played with 4 central midfielders, the Fire’s two pivots were able to dominate the midfield defensively. Not only this, but the two were also very solid in helping the Fire build out of St. Louis’ high press.
Especially in the first half, the Fire did extremely well in beating St. Louis’ high press. Calm and composed at the back, the Fire confidently played short passes around CITY’s front players which opened up spaces further up the pitch for the Fire to attack.
What we have seen a lot from the Fire this season is them allowing possession to slip into the hands of their opponents, hence, shifting the momentum of the match. Although the Fire weren’t 100 percent perfect in keeping the ball tonight, they were always quick to win the ball back, and if they couldn’t win it back right away, they made sure to organize defensively and stop any chances of a counter. Against St. Louis, technical quality and the desire to fight for every ball is what kept the Fire ahead for the entirety of the match.
The Fire will host St. Louis at Soldier Field on Saturday in their next match and will be looking to build off of Tuesday’s positive result. If the Fire can stay organized and play with the same intensity and quality that they did on Tuesday, then the points will again be theirs.
It is crucial that Klopas can help his team find some form in the league in order to make up for all of the lost points from the opening weeks of the campaign.