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Mean Regression: Vancouver Whitecaps 3, Chicago Fire 2, MLS Game Recap

The Fire break their unbeaten run in Vancouver

MLS: Chicago Fire at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Whitecaps 3 Kamara 28’, Mutch 47’, Karmara 72’

Chicago Fire 2 Nikolic 43’, Tchani 81’

It’s always hard to evaluate specific runs of form— good or bad— in the middle of the season. Once it’s over and you have hindsight to guide you, you have enough context to properly frame particular chapters in the story of a season. But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s so hard to judge.

Is a run of good results following a spell of bad ones the mark of a good team finally shaking off its bad mojo? Or was it a brief and fleeting mirage in an otherwise bad year with an otherwise bad team?

I’m not sure how to judge the Fire’s unbeaten run. I wanted to hope that maybe the bad times were squarely in the rearview mirror and that we were finally coming good. But the team we all saw tonight looked a bit too much like the team we saw near the start of the season. Maybe this past month or so was the fluke. Maybe tonight’s 3-2 loss to Vancouver is a much more faithful reflection of who we really are.

So first things first: no more Diego Campos at fullback! Rejoice! Huzzah! Bout fucking time! Let’s hope this is the end of that little experiment.

That said, from kickoff it seemed clear this was going to be a rough night. The team looked harried and pressed from the get-go, looking more like the Fire from March or April. Too loose in midfield, not enough going forward. Vancouver looking uncommonly sharp. That old familiar sense of dread started gathering early.

Sure enough, the Whitecaps got on the board just before the half-hour mark; Richard Sanchez was drawn off his line to close down on an attack, ended up being caught out and the Fire defense scrambling— in vain, to block the goal. Kei Kamara found a way through regardless and put the home side in front.

Just a few minutes later, the Alphonso Davies nearly doubled the score when he easily slipped past his markers and went one-on-one with Sanchez. His shot beat the keeper but pinged off the post and back out.

This definitely felt like it was going to be one of those nights.

The Fire struggled to get back on their feet, but to their credit, no white flags were waved. And though Nemanja Nikolic’s equalizer close to the end of the half was a little bit against the run of play, it was still well-earned.

All things considered, heading into the tunnel with a level score was pretty good.

At least until the second half started, and Sanchez was once again caught out. Jordon Mutch capitalized on it this time.

Sanchez absolutely deserves some criticism for his role in both goals, but it would be unfair to pin it all on him. The backline shares a significant portion of the blame. A lot of their problems tonight boiled down to an issue that is evidently crystal clear to everyone except Veljko Paunovic— which is, Brandon Vincent is not a centerback. He really, truly is not. And the sooner Pauno stops pretending otherwise, the better off we’ll all be.

(As an aside: the team also seemed to struggle on the turf at BC Place. You’d think they would’ve been briefed on the surface conditions. And yet.)

While the Fire struggled to get back into the game, Aleksandar Katai became increasingly unsettled. Some jostling with a Vancouver player earned him a (deserved) yellow card, and it was clear his simmering temper was only heating up. Another foul committed a minute or so later forced Pauno’s hand; Katai was swiftly taken off the pitch, shaking his head in frustration.

Moments later, Kamara posted Vancouver’s third goal, effectively putting the game to bed. When Pauno took Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty out for Jon Bakero and Tony Tchani just minutes later, it sure seemed like Pauno saw the writing on the wall.

But then Tchani did THIS, and all of a sudden things didn’t seem so clear.

There were, what, 10 minutes left? It wasn’t impossible to thin that maybe the Fire could get one more goal and get out of Vancouver with a point. Why the fuck not, right?

They never got that equalizer. Tchani came close to getting a second, and Nikolic skied a 12-yarder in stoppage time, so it wasn’t for want of trying. But the Fire managed to pull off a more dignified loss than it looked to be earlier in the game.

Maybe that’s a sign of progress. That the Fire’s “bad games” aren’t quite as bad anymore. They’re still trying to raise their ceiling, but the floor isn’t quite so low these day. With this team, you’ve got to take your positives wherever you can.

The Chicago Fire (6W 5D 8L, 23pts, 7th in the Eastern Conference) return home on Wednesday to take on Philadelphia.