FC Dallas 3 Gruezo 27’, Acosta 74’, Ziegler 81’ (PK)
Chicago Fire 1 Bronico 86’
I think most Fire fans understood that this season wasn’t going to be quite as good as last. With the roster changes, the extent to which league rivals upgraded and we didn’t, the niggling sense that our strong run last year might’ve been a fluke, all this added up to what could be described as healthy pessimism.
I suspect that few of us thought things would get this bad.
So this was definitely a polarizing lineup. A starting XI of kids and fringe players, featuring a forward line of Daniel Johnson, Elliot Collier, Jon Bakero (his first MLS start!), and (ugh) Alan Gordon. Drew Conner back in the team. All our star players either on the bench or not in the 18. This was... certainly a choice.
I want to believe that this was done purely to save our better players for the USOC game on Wednesday. But honestly, I think this is just Pauno being Pauno and playing fringe players to punish the regular starters for the loss to Philly. Seems a bit cutting off your nose to spite your face, but whatever, I’m too tired to argue about it.
(I am, however, choosing to believe that Pauno read Adnan’s editorial on Thursday and that influenced his decision to give Bakero the start.)
Here’s the thing though— through the first fifteen minutes, this team... wasn’t... bad? They were doing most of the things they were meant to do, and at the very least didn’t look worse than the stronger lineup that lost to Philly. It wasn’t immediately clear where the goals were supposed to come from, but apart from two Dallas chances right before 20’, this young B-Team was managing to hold it together. I could live with that.
Obviously it couldn’t last forever. The Fire backline gave Dallas way too much space, and Carlos Gruezo was unchallenged as he redirected a cross from the penalty spot.
The rest of the first half didn’t go much better. There wasn’t quite the same feeling of despair as there was against Philly, but I think that’s down to lowered expectations. When you decide to play the kids, as Pauno did today, you have to accept that things could go sideways. That the Fire went into halftime only down 1-0 was almost impressive, given how green this team was.
Apart from a Brandt Bronico near-miss in the opening minutes, the second half didn’t start much better for the Fire. Dallas had several clear chances. Jonathan Campbell nearly scored an own goal, saved only by the woodwork. By the time the hour mark came around, Dallas seemed more likely to get a second goal than the Fire did for an equalizer.
Chicago’s position collapsed entirely after the 70th minute. Drew Conner picked up a second yellow card, bringing the Fire down to 10 men. Moments later, Kellyn Acosta hit a daisy cutter from outside the box that rolled right past Richard Sanchez and into the back of the net. When the hydration break happened you could see a look on the players’ faces that I haven’t seen since those last games under Frank Yallop in 2015. That thousand yard stare. Lips curled first in frustration then relaxed in fatigue.
Five minutes later Campbell conceded a penalty and Dallas went up 3-0. I gave myself permission to check out of the game at that point. I’m glad I didn’t, because then I would’ve missed Brandt Bronico’s debut goal.
This ended up being the best the Fire could do tonight.
The best they could do.
This keeps coming up, and I don’t want to believe it. Because if how they’re playing now really is the best they can do, then that’s just not good enough. Something needs to change.
The Chicago Fire (6W 5D 10L, 23pts, 8th in the Eastern Conference) are at home on Wednesday to play Louisville City to move on the US Open Cup. And, probably, save their season.