The series with Toronto FC is a perfect encapsulation of the Fire’s 2019 season. The series featured one home game and one away game, both ending in ties with the final score being 2-2. These games show the vast differences between the Fire’s home and road approaches, and how letting games slip can change the season.
The Fire are one of the worst teams in MLS on the road. They are last in the league with only one road win this season, and on points they are just ahead of the Houston Dynamo with eight and six points respectively. At home the Fire are fourth place in the east and tenth overall. There is no other team in MLS with that large of a jump in results between their home and away form.
The Fire are very timid on the road, and the most extreme example came when they went to Toronto on April 6th. In this game the Fire sat deep, like double-parking the bus deep. The game ended with 71.4% possession for Toronto, who had almost double the amount of passes in our half compared to what we had in total. It was one of Alejandro Pozuelo’s first games for Toronto and Veljko Paunovic had Mo Adams man-mark him for a good chunk of the game.
Compare that to the game we saw this weekend, which was one of the most open games the Fire were involved in this year. Both teams had a similar amount of possession, lots of chances, and opportunities to take hold of the game. The Fire also played their game this weekend–they didn’t let the opposition dictate their gameplan or force them into playing reactionary soccer. I was impressed by how Dax McCarty and co. were able to limit Pozuelo and Michael Bradley from dominating the midfield without also sacrificing attacking numbers like they did in Toronto.
The differences in these two games are the problem with Pauno’s desire to tinker so much. When you never take the time to build an identity you see the extreme ups and downs that appear in these two games and throughout the season. The Fire have nothing to fall back on when games get tough or when they need to put their foot on the gas to kill a game. The Fire led both games 2-1 at the 75 minute mark, and those are the types of games that they need to close out.
Winning on the road is hard in MLS, and that’s all the more reason you need to win those games when given the opportunity. It’s the same thing at home–because success on the road is so difficult, winning at home is almost a necessity. Giving up cheap goals and not finishing chances have been killer for the team this season, and both were present in the matchups with Toronto.