How does this keep happening? That’s the question on everyone’s lips around the Chicago Fire, and someone needs to figure out how to stop it.
The Fire hosted the Philadelphia Union this weekend, and despite jumping out to a two-goal, they fell to a 2-2 draw in a bizarre match under the lights at Soldier Field.
Ezra Hendrickson, coming straight off of the Fire’s first home win of the season against Minnesota United, went with an unchanged starting XI. Chris Brady, seeking to avenge a game-deciding gaffe against the Union in March, started in goal, with the backline remaining the same. Though Fede Navarro and Jairo Torres trained throughout this week and were expected to be available, neither were included in the matchday squad; Gastón Giménez and Fabian Herbers started in the double pivot once again.
The Union, who had stunned Mexican side Atlas with an impressive 2-2 draw at Estadio Jalisco during the week, went with their strongest team. Though they fielded several of MLS’ top players, including Dániel Gazdag, Julián Carranza, Andre Blake, and Jack McGlynn, the Union did not immediately come out and look like the team that has regularly competed for the Supporter’s Shield for several years.
It was, in fact, the Fire who appeared to be the better team in the first half. The attack looked lively, with Brian Gutiérrez starting as the number 10 once again, but the first big chance came from an unlikely source from an unlikely spot. Right back Arnaud Souquet, experiencing an uptick in form after a difficult start to life in MLS following his arrival January, took a shot from inside his own half. It went just over the bar, but it had Blake beaten, and injected some life into the Soldier Field crowd.
A few minutes later, the Fire had their breakthrough. A cross from Miguel Ángel Navarro, bombing forward from left back, found its way to the feet of Maren Haile-Selassie. The Swiss winger, who has exceeded expectations since his loan arrival from Lugano, had to take an extra touch to get the ball under his control, but he managed to bundle the ball into the net. It was his first MLS goal, and it gave the Fire an advantage heading into the break.
Without Carlos Terán, there’s no guarantee that it would be so simple. The Colombian center back was the Fire’s best player in the first half, and was excellent at the heart of the back line.
With captain Rafa Czichos and Terán locking down the back line, the Fire were allowed to play with more confidence going forward. Solidity defensively have the attackers more freedom, even off the ball, to press and cause problems on the opposite side of the ball.
It was a moment like that that created the Fire’s second goal of the night. Limited space inside their own six-yard box caused problems for the Union’s communication, and Nathan Harriel blocked Jakob Glesnes’ clearance and put the ball into his own net. Suddenly, the Chicago Fire were up 2-0 on the mighty Philadelphia Union, but then they seemingly didn’t know what to do.
We’ve seen this Fire team blow two-goal leads before. Many times, in fact, but it really seemed like they were turning a corner. At the start of the second half, the Fire were plahying with such confidence at the start of the second half, and were playing beautiful soccer.
Then Carlos Terán went down with an injury, and everything changed. A penalty given up my Navarro was blasted into the roof of the net by Gazdag to reduce the deficit to one, and less than two minutes later, Carranza scored the equalizer. It had happened again.
For the Union, it could’ve been more. Substitute Quinn Sullivan’s shot went just wide, though Brady was beaten in goal. José Martínez rattled the woodwork in the 80th minute, and there was once again nothing Brady could have done about it. The Fire went from coasting and looking like the best version of this team in years, to suddenly clinging on to a point.
The introductions of Georgios Koutsias and Xherdan Shaqiri from the bench brought some life, but it wasn’t enough. Koutsias had two chances, both of which came close, but he could not score his first MLS goal. His second attempt, a dinked shot, was agonizingly close and bounced off the crossbar.
How can a soccer team blow so many two-goal leads? This shouldn’t be possible. It’s just inexplicable that this keeps happening, and head coach Ezra Hendrickson needs to find answers to that million-dollar question.
On the other side of the coin, the Fire are now unbeaten in five. The Men in Red are still above the playoff line, and have shown that they have the potential to do great things this season. They just need to figure out how to not blow a two-goal lead, because doing it three times in the first seven games of the season is not a recipe for success.
The Fire will go on the road to face Atlanta United next Sunday at 3:30 PM.