Chicago Fire 1 Nikolic 45’+2
Our wins don’t even feel like wins anymore.
We got three points, and those points count whether the performance was good or not. Whether it was enjoyable or not. A win is a win any way you can get it. And to their credit, the Fire broke a road winless streak that extended all the way back to the first half of 2018.
This should feel great.
But it doesn’t.
Once the game actually got going— there was a half-hour weather delay— the Fire fell into this 3.5-man backline they’re trying desperately to turn into A Thing. Bastian Schweinsteiger positioned himself just a little ahead of the defenders, so he was kind of a defender and kind of a holding midfielder.
In the opening minutes of the first half, the Fire tried their hand at pressing as a team, something which they haven’t done well this season. Maybe someone in the front office reads our articles after all. But Houston found their footing before too long, and the Fire found themselves pinned back in their own third— an all-too familiar feeling.
For the most part, the half resembled too many of the Fire’s past first halves— decent numbers and questionable eye-test results. Usually they’d head into halftime level or in a losing position. That Chicago managed to get a lead right before the whistle— with Nemanja Nikolic capitalizing on decent service from Nico Gaitán and finishing from close range— was very much against the script.
HT: @niko_nemanja scores late, gets his 7th goal of the season & gives the @ChicagoFire a 1-0 at the half. #HOUvCHI pic.twitter.com/Vp2cqd37wv— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 4, 2019
But hey, a lead is a lead anyway you can get it, right?
The second half didn’t start that great for Chicago. The Dynamo came out on a mission, and the Fire struggled early. Miguel Figueroa nearly equalized just seven minutes into the half, taking advantage of a Chicago defense in shambles. Later, around the hour mark, the Fire somehow failed to score several times from inside the six in a three second period.
WOW. How did the ball NOT go in?? pic.twitter.com/lRxehLMDVz— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 4, 2019
Sometimes I really do wonder if the team is cursed.
The Fire contrive to miss opportunities in a way I cannot fathom— Alicia Rodriguez (@soccermusings) August 4, 2019
As the half wore on, the Fire switched to a sit-back-and-hit-on-the-counter strategy. The problem was that no one on that team had the legs to pull off late counter-attacks. Gaitán got a decent opportunity for a break around 72’, but he just... honestly, the less said the better.
In most respects this was the same Fire team we’ve had to look at all season. The defense is better with Jonathan Bornstein, but not, strictly speaking, good. Kronholm is still the same liability he’s been since he joined, and the front line can’t finish chances. In most games, the Fire would’ve left Houston with zero points and more reasons to question their choices in life. As it is, they got lucky in the first half and their hosts weren’t really feeling it.
So, we won. It doesn’t feel like a win, but it’s a win. Three points toward a playoff race we’re not actually in. One more game to the end of the season. We’re all tired.
The Chicago Fire (6W 9D 10L, 27pts, 10th place) are back home next Saturday when they take on Montreal.