With everything to play for Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, the Chicago Fire shot themselves in the foot, and ended their own season. An error-filled 4-3 loss to New York City FC means the Fire will miss the MLS Playoffs for the third straight season.
Despite only winning five games all season, Chicago entered the match needing a win to clinch one of the final two spots in the Eastern Conference. While the team’s attack was strong on the day, defensive mistakes cost the team a spot in the postseason.
“We struggled against a very good team defensively, but that’s not only the defenders,” Fire head coach Raphael Wicky said after the match. “We defend as a team. That starts up front with Robert (Berić), and it ends in the goal with Bobby (Shuttleworth).”
Midfielder Gastón Giménez saw the defensive woes differently.
“I don’t think they were so much conceptually defensive errors,” Giménez said through a translator. “They were individual errors.”
Robert Berić opened the six-goal first half by pushing a shot wide just 14 seconds into the match. After that, it was off to the races. NYCFC’s Alex Callens made it 1-0 in the 15th minute, scoring a header off a horribly marked set piece by Chicago. The Cityzens doubled the lead in the 32rd minute, when Gary Mackay-Steven took a heavy touch wide around Bobby Shuttleworth, and finished from a near-impossible angle.
The Fire pulled one back right away, when Djordje Mihailovic crossed a ball to an unmarked Berić in the middle of the six yard box, who headed home the goal to make it 2-1. The goal was Berić’s 12th of the season, leaving him tied for second in the league with Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes. For Berić, it was a successful season individually, but confusing from a team standpoint.
“I don’t know what really to say,” Berić said of the Fire’s 2020 season. “I don’t think that we are so bad that we are not in the playoffs, that’s for sure. That we are not one of the top ten teams. But something is missing, that’s for sure, and that’s through the whole season.”
Jesus Medina made it 3-1 NYCFC in the 37th minute, and then the Fire’s Przemyslaw Frankowski answered with two quick goals in the 42nd and 43rd minute to make it 3-3 at the half, giving the Fire hope at the break.
After a back and forth second half, NYCFC scored the winner in the 77th minute, when Fire left back Miguel Navarro played a bizarre, one touch pass across the Fire’s penalty area. Valentin Castellanos gobbled up the terrible ball, slotted it into goal, and forced the Fire to scramble to find two goals that never came.
“We have to obviously stop doing similar mistakes in every single game,” Wicky said.
With their wins, the Montreal Impact and Inter Miami secured the final two playoff spots. The Fire finished in 11th, one spot outside of the expanded playoff picture.
Now the Fire head to the offseason looking to fill some holes in the roster, build on their positives, and, finally, try to put a winner on the field in 2021.
“I think we have laid a good foundation, a very good foundation for next year, but we’re obviously disappointed,” Wicky said.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić (F Collier 76’), D Bornstein (D Navarro 58’), D Calvo ©, D Pineda (D Terán 88’), M Medrán, M Mihailović, M Giménez, M Frankowski, M Herbers (M Aliseda 58’), F Berić
Subs not used: GK Sparrow, D Bronico, D Omsberg, D Kappelhof, M Gutiérrez
New York City FC: GK Johnson, D Tinnerholm, D Chanot, D Callens (D Ibeagha HT), D Ring ©, D Matarrita (D Thorarinsson 68’), M Moralez, M Mackay-Steven (F Tajouri-Shradi 81’), M Medina (M Rocha 81’), M Parks (D Acevedo 68’), F Castellanos
Subs not used: GK Stuver, D Scally, M Torres, M Haak