There’s a concept out there in the world of soccer where if you don’t allow your opponents to score, you give yourself a better chance to win. It’s a simple one, but one that the 2019 Chicago Fire are starting to follow; with Saturday’s 2-0 win against the Philadelphia Union, the Fire secured their third shutout in just five game and are starting to string together confidence boosting results off the back of very solid defense.
To put that in context, the Fire shutout their opponent in just four of their first 22 regular season fixtures this year. They’ve almost matched it in less than a quarter of the games! That’s remarkable, no matter how you slice it. The shutouts have led to points, and the points have allowed this group to cling to a playoff opportunity by a thread.
It starts with a solidified backline, but it doesn’t end there. This team looks more comfortable and confident than the one we saw in the spring over the last three results. Here’s why:
Jonathan Bornstein is pretty good
Let’s start with the obvious: putting a left back at left back has helped, a lot. It has also helps that Bornstein has played well in a Fire uniform. He hasn’t lit the world on fire, but he’s been incredible dependable, smart, and savvy at left back, something the Fire were missing desperately at that position. I was critical of moving Mo Adams to make way for an additional roster spot at the time, and still would like to have him on the roster, but the Front Office does deserve some credit for bringing in Bornstein and it immediately having an impact. Better late than never I guess, right?
He’s provided a steady hand next to Francisco Calvo, and four natural defenders across the backline have not only provided a solid foundation for the Fire, but…
The backline can now impact the game going forward
Beyond the stability and chemistry the Fire now have with four actual defenders, have you noticed how good the passing ability is across the backline? You have three above average passers and one elite one in Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Look at the second goal against Montreal; it starts with Calvo stepping in to win a tackle, splitting the lines with a pass and the attack is off and running. The second goal this Saturday against Philly? Kapplehof’s interplay with Frankowski was the difference. Any defender can now step into the middle third, initiating the attack, knowing that things are shored up behind them. They always have three defenders sliding and shifting in the right spots to cover behind them, which means…
Dax can do his job much more easily
Dax McCarty’s mission for this team just got that much easier. Instead of always providing help to one side of the field due to the lack of trust at one of the positions along the backline or having to make long recovery runs when a defender joins the final third, he can cover the space in front of the backline much more effectively.
Did you notice Monteiro or Fabian on Saturday? Even with the Fire down to ten men, you didn’t see them much. McCarty and Brandt Bronico ate them up because they were allowed to hunt the ball in the middle of the field and not cover so much ground horizontally, knowing the guys behind them could handle their business.
Soccer is a team game. One personnel or tactical change has a ripple effect across the team. For the Fire, it’s shoring up their backline, and it looks like they have found a winning formula. Is it too late? Maybe. But they still have a fighting chance. They’re not dead yet.