Chicago Fire FC entered Thursday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps with a 93 percent chance of advancing to the Round of 16 at the MLS is Back Tournament. A win would have done it, a draw was fine, and even a loss was okay, as long as it wasn’t by two goals.
Chicago lost the match 2-0.
And with that, they’re heading home from a tournament that saw them win a big opening match against the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders, and lose a tough match against the San Jose Earthquakes.
While the Seattle win was great, and the San Jose loss had some positives, this loss was hard to stomach. The Fire dominated the possession battle 61-39 against a severely shorthanded Whitecaps side that entered the match with two straight losses. The Fire outshot the Whitecaps by an astounding 25-4 margin.
And yet, two poor defensive errors, a lack of quality finishing, and a controversial VAR call did them in.
After a one hour and 33 minute delay for lightning around the hour mark of the match, the Fire came back out looking flat, and Vancouver capitalized. Right after the restart Ali Adnan slipped a ball through Chicago’s back line to Yordy Reyna, who put it away to open the scoring.
Six minutes later, Reyna played another through ball behind the Fire’s back line, finding Cristian Dájome for the Whitecaps second goal, making it 2-0.
Fire midfielder Álvaro Medrán said he felt the team’s “attitude” changed after the weather break.
“There were a couple of plays that you can’t allow on a soccer team, especially in a tournament,” Medrán said through a translator.
“I think we were a little bit confident because we had been playing well for the 60 minutes before that,” Medrán continued. “And, so, there are just details we have to work on that we can’t allow.”
The Fire temporarily pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 84th minute, which would have been enough to advance. But a controversial VAR decision ruled CJ Sapong committed a handball near the right post, and his goal was disallowed.
“From my views that I’ve seen, it’s not clear and obvious whether it was a handball or not,” said Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein, who said he watched the replay several times. “You got three players right there, kind of battling. Two of theirs, and CJ. They kind of sandwich CJ where he’s kind of bringing his arms up. It looks like it could hit anybody’s hand in that situation. For me, it’s not clear and obvious.”
Notably absent from the match was Fire Homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihailović, whose creative ability may have been able to help Chicago unlock a goal and stay alive.
“It was a technical, tactical decision,” Wicky said. “I know Djordje is a good player. I know Djordje can help us, but there is certain things I don’t want to talk here now. I have to talk about that internally. Djordje’s a good player, and I hope in the future he will help us, but I took the decision in these games not to start him for multiple technical, tactical reasons.”
Since the beginning of the season, Wicky has preached the importance of staying level-headed—if you win, it doesn’t mean everything is great, and if you lose, it doesn’t mean everything is bad. Although the Fire dominated the match from a possession standpoint, Wicky seemed downright disappointed.
“The 63 minutes before the break don’t make me feel better,” he said. “We had everything in our own hand, we had everything right there. We just have to grab it. So, it hurts.”
Going forward, it’s unclear when the Fire will play next. Their MLS is Back experience is over, and the league wants to play matches in home markets sometime soon, but there are no formal plans to do that just yet.
Whenever the team plays next, Wicky wants everyone to trust the process.
“We’ve had three games together with this group,” the Fire’s first-year coach said. “So, we’re in the beginning. We see good moments, but we also see that there is work to do, and we have to keep working. It’s going to take time. But today it hurts.”
Chicago Fire FC: GK Kronholm, D Frankowski, D Sekulić, D Pineda (F Collier 76’), D Calvo (c), D Bornstein (D Navarro 60’), M Giménez, M Medrán, M Herbers, F Berić, F Aliseda (F Sapong 59’)
Subs not used: GK Shuttleworth, GK Sparrow, D Omsberg, D N. Slonina, D Reynolds II, M Bronico, M Casas, M Mihailović
Shots: 25 Shots on goal: 5 Fouls: 14 Offsides: 2 Corners: 10 Possession: 61.2%
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: GK Hasal, D Veselinovic, D Cornelius, D Khmiri (M Dajome 45’+3’), D Nerwinski, D Adnan, M Hwang, M Owsu (D Gutierrez 63’), M Teibert ©, F Bair (M Milinkovic 62’), F Raposo (F Reyna 57’)
Subs not used: GK Sirois, M Metcalfe, M Colyn, M Baldisimo, M Pecile
Shots: 4 Shots on goal: 2 Fouls: 7 Offsides: 2 Corners: 0 Possession: 38.8%