Three in a row was too good to be true.
Despite a relatively strong performance all things considered, the Chicago Fire’s unlikely winning streak away from home came to an end as they were comfortably defeated 3-1 by Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. In a match in which the referees were often at the center of the action, individual mistakes ultimately cost the Fire the points as they returned home empty-handed.
Seeking to conclude the three-match road swing with a victory, Frank Klopas stuck with what was working. The full return of Xherdan Shaqiri following the international break meant that he slotted in as the #10, replacing Jairo Torres and pushing Brian Gutiérrez to the left wing, whilst Carlos Terán returned to the XI ahead of the absent Fede Navarro, moving Mauricio Pineda to midfield. Alonso Aceves, Rafa Czichos, and Arnaud Souquet remained unchanged in the rest of the back four, with Gastón Giménez partnering Pineda in the middle and in-form Fabian Herbers earning another start on the right wing. Kei Kamara kept the starting job up top.
Despite unforgiving temperatures over 90 degrees, the first half wasn’t short of action. Both teams took some time to grow into the game, but shortly before the half-hour mark, the Fire nearly took the lead. A Shaqiri free kick set up a Czichos header from point-blank range, which scored, but he was ruled offside. A few minutes later, Orlando had an opportunity down the other end, which was well saved by Brady to keep the game level.
Brady had an excellent start to the game, and showed his shot-stopping quality numerous times in the opening half, but he was eventually beaten in the 38th minute. A header from Facundo Torres exposed a defensive lapse by the Fire, and opened the scoring. Torres’ strong performance was rewarded, but it was nonetheless inexcusable that the five-foot-nine midfielder was able to win an aerial battle inside the penalty box.
Things nearly got worse when a poor tackle from Terán arguably should have granted Orlando a penalty kick, but referee Nima Saghafi ruled that it was not one after a lengthy VAR check. VAR was again called into action early in the second half when Kei Kamara nearly scored from inside the penalty box, but it was cleared off the line. None of the angles shown to the referee could clearly show if the ball had crossed the line or not, emphasizing MLS’ need to introduce goal-line technology in order to expedite such reviews.
Mere seconds after the potential goal was waved off, a silly handball by Herbers granted Orlando a penalty, which was granted this time. Torres sent Brady the wrong way. After the goal, Klopas turned to his bench, introducing Miguel Ángel Navarro and Maren Haile-Selassie.
Gutiérrez supplied a glimmer of hope in the second half. The recently-turned 20-year-old shifted centrally more frequently, thus seeing more of the ball in advanced positions, and his quality brought the Fire briefly back into the game. He presented Shaqiri with a brilliant opportunity one-on-one, squandered by the Swiss DP, shortly before he craftily won a penalty on his own with his dribbling. Shaqiri converted the penalty, officially going down as the Fire’s difference-maker on the scoresheet though ultimately, both of his two big changes were created totally by his young teammate.
Brady kept the Fire alive with numerous big saves and sweeper-keeper moments inside the penalty box, but his efforts were ultimately in vain. Ramiro Enrique reinstated Orlando’s two-goal lead, and a few minutes later, Souquet picked up a second yellow to put the nail in the coffin.
While the homegrown duo of Brady and Gutiérrez provided a bright spot, and the performance was nothing to be ashamed of, Klopas’ team will still be bitterly disappointed to lose the game the way they did. All the goals were preventable, and the match was littered with individual errors and defensive mishaps. From a bigger picture standpoint, though, the two prior wins at Portland and Kansas City should instill hope in this team’s playoff ambitions and must provide energy and belief heading into a three-game homestand starting this week.