Two things are becoming clear with the 2020 Chicago Fire. One, the team needs to be better at finishing chances. And two, they’ll need to quit having defensive lapses if they want to turn the season around.
The Columbus Crew soundly beat the Fire 3-0 at MAPFRE Stadium Thursday night, in what was a return to MLS regular season play for both clubs. The gap in the scoreline was big, but Fire coach Raphael Wicky said in his eyes, the game was much tighter than that.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s a 3-0 game,” Wicky said after the match. “I think we struggled in the first 15 minutes, it took us awhile to come into the game, and I feel the team actually stepped up, created chances, created good moments, very good moments.
“The lesson is, we need to be better at finishing our chances, because we create chances every single game. We need to be better in finishing them. And then, the 1-0 (goal) is clearly too easy. It’s one long ball, and then it’s a goal. That can’t happen. It’s way too easy. If on both ends of the field we are not 100 percent, then it will be difficult.”
Columbus’ first goal came in the 20th minute, when Derrick Etienne ran into the box unmarked after Przemyslaw Frankowski dropped off defensively, and slotted in a pass from the end line by Milton Valenzuela.
“When (Frankowski) goes and takes a position, he needs to do the job,” Wicky said. “He cannot start a job and not finish a job. That’s pretty simple. It was our right side with Frankie and (Boris) Sekulić. These are two very experienced players. I spoke to them, and they have to do better than that.”
Just before halftime, Chicago left back Miguel Navarro brought down Luis Diaz inside the box, but Gyasi Zardes skied the penalty over the bar, and the Fire entered halftime only down 1-0 on a stroke of good luck.
The Fire looked better for much of the beginning of the second half, and began to settle in. Columbus won the possession battle 55-45, but most other stats—shots, shots on target, passing accuracy, duals won—were all pretty close between the two sides.
Like Wicky, Fire captain Francisco Calvo said the game felt tighter than the score indicated.
“Columbus is a great team, but I think we put them in a lot of problems a lot of the time,” Calvo said. “To be honest in the field, I didn’t see a lot of difference.”
Chicago has been outscored 7-0 over the last three matches dating back to the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, and more often than not, the goals the Fire are conceding are due to mental lapses. That’s something new starting goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth—who took over for the injured Kenneth Kronholm—said the team needs to address.
“We need to be better in these key moments when we give away really, really soft goals,” the MLS veteran said. “That’s something we’re gonna work on in training, and try to hammer out, get right for Tuesday (vs. FC Cincinnati).”
Columbus doubled the lead in the 80th minute, when Darlington Nagbe scored what’s sure to be a candidate for MLS goal of the year, flicking the ball up to himself and firing a volley into the back of Chicago’s net from well outside the 18 yard box.
After that, anything the Fire had left seemed to fizzle out, and Gyasi Zardes was able to tap in a pass on the left post late in the match to make it 3-0.
“There was the Nagbe goal, which is a great goal, but then we gave away two easy goals, and that’s unacceptable. We’re gonna correct that, and keep working,” Calvo said.
Chicago forward CJ Sapong missed the match. He had an excused absence from team activities to attend to a personal matter. Because of that, Sapong is currently in Chicago adhering to a mandatory quarantine.
Next up, the Fire return to Soldier Field for the first time in 15 years. Chicago will host FC Cincinnati on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN & ESPN+) in the team’s first home match of the season.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Calvo ©, D Pineda (M Gutiérrez 82’), D Navarro, M Frankowski, M Mihailović (M Collier 61’), M Giménez, M Medrán (M Bronico 89’), F Berić, F Aliseda
Subs not used: GK Sparrow, D Omsberg, D Bornstein, D Reynolds II, M Herbers, M Azira
Shots: 11 Shots on goal: 3 Fouls: 17 Offsides: 0 Corners: 5 Possession: 45.5%
Columbus Crew SC: GK Tarbell, D Williams, D Valenzuela, D Mensah ©, D Afful, M Nagbe, M Santos (D Cadden 90’), M Artur, M Diaz (M Berhalter 66’), M Etienne Jr. (M Boateng 74’), F Zardes (F Adi 90’)
Subs not used: GK Lampson, D Keita, D Francis, M Jimenez, M Alashe
Shots: 9 Shots on goal: 4 Fouls: 12 Offsides: 2 Corners: 1 Possession: 54.5%