The Chicago Fire’s season effectively ended on Sunday in the most fitting way possible— winning in the shots category, both on and off target, winning in the xG category and piecing together some good moments of soccer only to fall just short of a result to keep their season alive.
This game was perfect to say goodbye to the season and the Fire’s time at Bridgeview. This team could have been, and should have been, very good. Sunday was yet another display of some good attacking soccer, but defensive breakdowns and ultimately the inability to defend set pieces were too much to overcome.
However, one thing that stood out in this game was very atypical of the 2019 Chicago Fire. The goal production, and the Fire’s hope at a playoff berth, were kept alive by two substitutes late in the game against Toronto. Both Aleksandar Katai and Fabian Herbers came on the pitch down a goal and gave the Fire the lead for a brief moment. This hasn’t been the norm this year for the Fire; only six of the 50 goals the Fire have scored in 2019 have been from those who came on to the field as substitutes, and two of them came on Sunday!
Now, is it a glaring issue for most teams who don’t get production from their substitutes on a consistent basis in the goals category? Well, no. But for a team with type of attacking talent and this type of depth you would think they would have a few players capable of being game-breakers. Super-subs. People who you can bring on and put the defense on its heels, especially at the rate that the Fire played from positions behind or level on the scoreboard this year.
The energy, the intention, and the production that both Katai and Herbers brought off the bench was something that was not always apparent whenever Veljko Paunovic called on his depth to get the Fire a result. Matches against Montreal away, the NYCFC game at Yankee stadium, and Vancouver at home are all games that come to mind when thinking about needing that type of production from the bench that just wasn’t there this year.
The 2019 season might be over at this point, but Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic might want to reflect on how they might address this problem moving forward. Whatever style, or ‘game model’, they plan on implementing with the 2020 season, targeting players to change the course of a game as a substitute should be one of the many things on their list.