Philadelphia Union 3 Ilsinho 44’, Burke 51’, Dockal 87’ (PK)
Chicago Fire 1 Gordon 56’
Every time the Fire have a bad season there comes a point where we start clutching at anything that could give some measure of hope. A depth/fringe player scores a goal and we say yes, this young man can carry us through. A substitute keeper has a good game and we say yes, this guy can be our rock. We string a couple games together where late goals salvage a result and we say, yeah, sure, this is a good base to rebuild on.
In the past few days we’ve looked at a few positive results on the road— the win against RBNY, the draw with Toronto, and this past Saturday’s win in Orlando— and thought maybe this could work for us. Maybe we’re a team that’s better on the road. Maybe we’re a team that could pull off smash-and-grabs against better sides. There are worse things to build a brand on.
I thought that too. I wrote as much in the game preview. And for a while, I wanted it to be true. I wanted it to be true enough for the Fire to get a result against Philadelphia.
And then this happened instead.
I’m going to level with you— I’m pretty much done trying to figure out Pauno’s teamsheets. With Mo Adams’ suspension lifted, there was no reason to change things too much for tonight. Obviously if Niko couldn’t play you’d have to make some decisions for the forward line, but that should’ve been a simple switch-out. This 5-3-2 setup is just... I don’t know, man. I gave up.
(But hey, Lucho back in the 18! That’s neat!)
So you know that phrase “don’t mistake activity for achievement?” That mostly capture’s the Fire’s performance in the first half. Lots of running around, some possession but little of it meaningful, giving up cheap turnovers and missing passes by some distance, and more or less letting Philadelphia dictate terms. The Union had a number of promising early opportunities, most notably from a Alejandro Bedoya header that clanged off the post.
The defense was all out of sorts, even with Bastian Schweinsteiger dropping back as a sweeper. (Some bad clearances early from Basti almost let the Union get on the scoreboard. It was hard to tell if those were down to poor focus or fatigue. Or maybe he’s quietly given up.) Meanwhile, the forward line couldn’t figure out what they were doing for long stretches of time— or, indeed, who was playing where. No less than three players had a turn at center forward in the opening half hour. That’s fine if your team plays a very fluid Klopp-esque game. The Fire are not that kind of team.
One bright spot— Patrick McLain, with a couple brilliant saves to keep the Fire on level terms with their host early on.
Katai nearly kicked down the door in the 35th minute with a low shot at the near post, forcing Andre Blake into a diving save. But these moments were few and far between. Too often a Fire attacker would lead a breakaway while teammates jogged behind him. Chicago registered precisely one (1) shot through the entire half. Philly’s bunkering defense surely didn’t help, but the Fire, as is often the case this season, made things harder on themselves than they needed to be.
At length, the Union made us pay for our indolence. Brushing past befuddled Fire defenders, Ilsinho found space in the box and fired past Pat McLain to put the home team ahead right before halftime. It wasn’t quite inevitable, but it definitely didn’t come as a surprise.
As often happens with this Chicago team, they tend to need some time to find their bearings in the game. The Union were wholly uninterested in giving it to them, and they doubled their advantage in the 51st minute when Cory Burke headed home. The entire backline broke down on the play but Jorge Corrales in particular needed to do much better.
To their credit, the Fire didn’t roll immediately roll over. Katai nearly made a breakthrough a few moments later with a saved shot, and Ellis headed just a bit high off of the resulting corner kick. There was a sense that something might be building.
And then, less than five minutes later, the moment.
Brandt Bronico led an attack down the right flank and crossed it into the box, teeing it up for Alan Gordon (friendly reminder!) to redirect into the back of the net. (A rainbow-colored net. For the Union’s Pride Night. Irony isn’t dead yet, evidently.)
The goal proved to be the jumpstart the Fire needed. Solignac’s substitute appearance lent some new lines of attack, while everyone else in the front half of the pitch seemed to find an extra gear. Lucho nearly bagged an equalizer in the 78th minute, offering some more late hope. Maybe they can pull it off.
It’s funny how quickly momentum can be killed in soccer, isn’t it?
87' Philly's Borek Dockal converts a late PK to give the Union a 3-1 lead.— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) May 31, 2018
It’s hard to know what to reasonably expect from this team anymore. I’ve gone from Get Points By Any Means Possible to Fight Like Hell to Please Don’t Embarrass Us. In a month I’ll probably settle down nicely in Fine Just Tank For The Draft Picks And Be Done With It territory. The mood is dark, my friends.
The Chicago Fire (4-2-7, 14pts, eighth in the Eastern Conference) are back at home this Saturday to face the San Jose Earthquakes.