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Backsliding: Chicago Fire 1, Toronto FC 3, MLS game recap

Fire undone by baffling concentration lapses as the rot reaches Toyota Park

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO FIRE 1 (Accam 54’)

TORONTO FC 3 (Delgado 14’, Hasler 63’, Giovinco 90’)

If the Chicago Fire, the soccer team, were a person — and that person was your good friend — you’d be worried they’d picked up a drug habit right about now.

The signs range from the obvious - a sudden and baffling inability to perform feats of concentration, even those which had formerly been routine; or to formulate sufficient enthusiasm to move about hopefully - to the insubstantial: A tension around the eyes. A sense of some dark truth waiting unspoken just behind the soft palate. The posture turned inward, the shoulders rolled forward and the chest caved in, warding off unseen blows.

Where is our swaggering friend? Who is this twitchy imposter?

The latest evidence of the Fire’s rapid decline from their mid-season grandeur came tonight, as Toronto FC snapped the Fire’s nine-game home winning streak - and surely their pretensions of challenging for the Supporters Shield - with a surly but convincing 3-1 punch-out of the reeling Men in Red.

Chicago had floated to their lofty perch on a steady diet of positive game state, seldom playing from behind, but Toronto’s basic solidity promised to make that a more difficult prospect than usual. And it was indeed the visitors who broke the deadlock: Reds wingback Justin Morrow driving into the penalty area then cutting the ball back for Nicolas Hasler, whose skidding shot was saved but not smothered by Matt Lampson. Toronto’s Marky Delgado, standing a foot away, had merely to flick his foot towards goal to make it 1-0, TFC, in the 14th minute.

The Fire’s difficulty in unlocking packed defenses was thus foregrounded, with Toronto grinningly willing to retreat into a 7-man defensive block and leave the terrifying bomb squad of Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore to threaten further harm. The first half ended with Chicago actively tinkering, moving Bastian Schweinsteiger around the field looking for space.

The Fire had their best stretch of play early in the second half, during which they’d briefly tie the game. A halftime tactical switch made good on the data roaming-Basti had harvested in the first half, with Chicago controlling play in better areas. The tying goal came after a flowing forward move spearheaded by Dax McCarty, whose 1-2 with David Accam at the top of the area freed him to pull the ball back for Schweinsteiger to strike.

The German legend absolutely crushed a first-time volley off Dax’s pass, and the sound it made caroming off the left upright of the goal was the single loudest sound of the game. The rebound floated perfectly in front of Accam, who gratefully plonked his 13th goal of the season into the net.

Weirdly, despite the roaring approval of the largest crowd to watch a regular-season game at Toyota Park, the Fire reacted as if tying the game had ended it. A string of mental errors by Lampson seemed to unsettle a defense that needed no assistance getting flustered, with Schweinsteiger and McCarty joining a general all-hands-on-deck approach snuffing out the resultant counterattacks. Then none of McCarty, Accam or Doody marked Hasler’s back-post run, allowing him to pick his spot when Vazquez inevitably dropped an inch-perfect cross to him: 2-1, Toronto. The game had been tied for nine minutes.

Was it something around their eyes? What’s going on here?

The Fire mustered little credible threat over the final half-hour, and were forced to leave enormous swathes of space open in their defense as time wore on. Giovinco, ever an opportunist, sealed the Toronto victory in the 90th minute when he caught Chicago centerback Johan Kappelhof’s inattention after a foul in midfield and sprinted into the space behind. The quick restart moved the ball efficiently to the Italian genius’ feet; he and Toussaint Ricketts worked a textbook 2-on-1 break that Giovinco finished for the final margin.

The loss is the Fire’s third in eight days, their fifth in six games, and it leaves them plummeting toward a dogfight in the middle part of the Eastern Conference. Chicago (12-8-5) hosts Minnesota next Saturday.