Tonight was one of those nights you wish that soccer was played over 89 minutes and not 90.
The Chicago Fire traveled to Chester, Pennsylvania, tonight to take on the Philadelphia Union and fell to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss. It was a resilient performance, and the Fire made the Union work far more than anyone expected, but a few moments of madness undid all the good work Ezra Hendrickson’s team did throughout the match.
Entering the match, the Union were overwhelmingly heavily favored; no one gave the Fire a chance. Given the massive gap in perceived level and the Union’s unblemished home record over the last two seasons, Hendrickson rolled out the team in a different shape than usual. Moving away from his favored 4-2-3-1, the Fire lined up in a fluid formation that was roughly a 3-4-1-2. 19-year-old Chris Brady stepped into the first team goal for the second time in his career, Kendall Burks earned just his third career start at left center back, and Kei Kamara lined up alongside Kacper Przybyłko at the forward position.
Despite expectations being set at zero, the Fire started the game hot. Within a minute, captain Rafa Czichos already had a chance to get on the board, coming close from inside the six-yard box following a Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick. The Fire looked confident on the attack, but the Union came close in the 13th minute when Julián Carranza’s shot was cleared off the line by Gastón Giménez. Kamara was the first man to put the ball into the back of the net in the 17th minute, but the linesman’s flag went up. Through 20 minutes, the Fire, who had been built up as pigs waiting to be slaughtered, had 69% possession.
The two goalkeepers on either end would also play a big role in the first half. Philadelphia’s keeper, three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, made some big saves, including one on a strong header from Przybyłko. However, he had to be helped off in the 33rd minute with an injury, and he was replaced by Joe Bendik. In his first match as the undisputed #1, Chris Brady made an excellent early impression and was both reliable with his shot-stopping (making X saves) and sweeping. The Fire entered the half feeling good and playing like the better team.
Five minutes into the second half, though, things started to turn sour. The Fire’s goalscoring hero one week prior and former Union midfielder Fabian Herbers picked up a second yellow card and was sent off. After such a positive first 45 minutes, the Fire were reduced to 10, and the game’s momentum shifted.
Even with a man down, the Fire continued to fight. The hosts saw much more of the ball in the second period and peppered Brady’s goal, but they could not break down the Fire’s back line. Jonathan Dean was introduced for his MLS debut, and he fit right in as an attacking right back, while 19-year-old Javi Casas also exceeded expectations when he came off the bench to replace Shaqiri. Despite all that, though, it wasn’t to be, and a shocking point on the road wasn’t on the cards.
With under a minute left in regulation, Union substitute Joaquin Torres took a hopeful shot from outside the box. Chris Brady misjudged the flight of the ball, and it ended up in the back of the net. It was enough to hand Philadelphia the three points and send the Fire home empty-handed despite a courageous performance under difficult circumstances. It will be a particularly difficult pill to swallow for Brady, who played a near-perfect game up until that point, but due to one uncharacteristic mistake, the Fire lost the game.
Kei Kamara picked up a second yellow card as the clock died down. He’ll miss next week’s game along with Herbers, who will also be suspended.
The Chicago Fire will host FC Cincinnati at Soldier Field next Saturday at 7:30 PM.