The Fire struggle defensively once again, giving up two goals in the last twenty minutes and wasting an opportunity to get a result on the road.
This, in a vacuum, is what happened on Saturday night and should have dragged supporters back into the same listlessness that they’ve experienced for almost a decade; except it didn’t.
Yes, they bottled a chance to win their first MLS opener in ten years, but I think JBG spoke for all Fire fans when they said that you can’t help but have an inkling of optimism after the performance we saw in Carson. This could be false hope, but this felt different.
Here are some reasons for optimism.
Djordje Mihailovic looks like he’s going to take the next step
He may not have registered anything other than a few shots on the stat sheet, but social media was buzzing about the young American’s performance against the Galaxy. Below is a snippet of some of his best touches:
Djordje Mihailovic vs LA Galaxy— USMNT Videos (@USMNTvideos) March 3, 2019
He continually found himself in good positions in between the LA’s midfield and defensive block, starting centrally only to drift wide and occupy the spaces Frankowski and Katai left. The knock on Mihailovic at times is that the end-product is lacking, but he showed glimpses of being the dangerous playmaker that Chicago needs to unlock the opposition in the final third, such as the :20 mark of the video above. If he continues to dictate the Fire’s tempo of attack in the final third, he has the weapons to finish in the top 10 in assists this year.
Get ready for a lot of goals
It was not only the young Homegrown who showed promise going forward; the entire front four caused the Galaxy all sorts of problems on Saturday, and probably deserved more than just a single goal in the 90 minutes. The Men in Red set up with a 4-2-3-1 with Djordje, Aleksandar Katai, and Przemysław Frankowski continuously interchanging to expose the pockets of space in front of LA’s back four. As Maurice Edu noted on the broadcast, it was a narrow set up, but one that allowed the Fire’s primary playmakers to find the ball early in the build-up with space to create moving forward.
There’s reason to be excited as the group tries to build off Saturday’s performance. Frankowski provides a necessary injection of pace on the wing, and Djordje and Katai looked decisive when giving time and space. Plug in Nemanja Nikolic as the lone striker to be on the end of good service, this team is going to play an entertaining brand of attacking soccer.
More depth and flexibility
Key word: more. With the 2017 Golden Boot Winner in Nikolic coming back, Nico Gaitan reportedly expected to join the squad, this team has the flexibility to mix and match different parts together for Veljko Paunovic in ways he hasn’t been able to before. The backline is thin and most likely to be the downfall for this group, but in a league where the quality of defending across the board is consistently a question mark, rolling out one dynamic attacker after another isn’t the worst approach.
I’m looking forward to next week, and to see this team improve over the entire year. Yes, results matter, but I’d argue a little bit of hope carries more weight at this point. See you next week. Vamos Chicago.