The Chicago Fire had to wait 15 years to play a home match at Soldier Field. Luckily, they didn’t have to wait any longer than that to secure their first win at their new home digs.
The Fire dismantled FC Cincinnati 3-0 Tuesday night in the club’s historic return to the Chicago Lakefront. The win helped break a tough run for Chicago, which saw them outscored 7-0 in three straight losses.
Fire head coach Raphael Wicky, who has played and coached in some of the biggest stadiums in the world—Anfield, Old Trafford, Allianz Arena, Signal Iduna Park—said coaching inside Soldier Field ranks right up there for him, even if it was without fans.
“We wish that today there would have been 50- 60-thousand people here inside, and the team would have been able to celebrate inside, in a normal world,” Wicky told reporters after the match. “I can only imagine how it must be to win games and score goals here in a full stadium.”
Fabian Herbers—who scored the Fire’s final goal in Bridgeview last season—didn’t wait long into the match to score the first at Soldier Field. In the second minute, the German put away a beautiful weighted pass from Gastón Giménez that arced over the top of Cincinnati’s back line. Referee Elton Garcia judged Herbers’ goal to be onside after a lengthy VAR review.
“I thought for sure, personally, that I was offside, that I was like one or two steps ahead,” Herbers admitted. “But thanks to VAR, they called it back and credited me the goal. I was obviously very pleased to make history, but I’m just happy to help the team that we got an early goal, got ahead, and got those three points. That’s what matters most to me, in the end.”
The Fire grabbed their second goal a few minutes when Álvaro Medrán buried a blocked ball that fell to him about 25 yards out.
“It was a really quick play,” Medrán said via a translator. “I made a pass for Frankie, and I saw the play was going to happen inside the box. So, I got closer in case it bounced back, and that’s what happened. I saw there was a little bit of space, I got closer, and I tried to hit it. Luckily, this time, it went in.”
Cincinnati came out in a 5-3-2 with a very low block, meaning they kept as many players back defensively as possible. The Fire were able to crack that shell quickly with the two goals in ten minutes, and successfully used counter pressing whenever they did lose it in Cincinnati’s final third.
“I think it helps here that the field is a little bit narrow, so Cincinnati had less space to play, so it played into our advantage to really press up high,” Herbers said.
The Fire’s best technical moment of the match came in the 67th minute, when designated player Ignacio Aliseda scored a left foot goal off a pass by Boris Sekulić that saw several Fire players touch the ball in rapid succession.
The Fire entered the match ranked fifth in MLS in chances created, with only four goals to show for it. With three goals Tuesday night, the team nearly doubled their goal output for the entire season. Chicago also won the possession battle 52-48, completed 462 passes with an 88-percent completion percentage, and outshot Cincinnati 14-8, giving up only one shot on goal.
But in the end, it was the clinical finishing early that set everything else up for the Fire.
“Today showed that when we are clinical in front of goal, that we can really dominate teams, and win games,” Herbers said. “And we didn’t even give up much defensively, so I’m really proud of the team.”
The game also marked the Fire’s first clean sheet of the season. Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth actually appeared to be injured toward the end of the match, but Wicky said it was likely due to Shuttleworth being “kicked somewhere we don’t really want to get kicked.”
With the win, the Fire improve to 2-4-1 on the season.
Next up, the Fire visit NYCFC on Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN-TV & ESPN+). The match will be played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, because NYCFC’s usual home, Yankee Stadium, is unavailable. The team’s next home match at Soldier Field will be Sunday, September 6 against the New England Revolution.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Calvo ©, D Pineda, D Navarro, M Frankowski (D Bornstein 88’), M Herbers (F Collier 59’), M Giménez, M Medrán (D Bronico 73’), F Berić (M Gutiérrez 88’), F Aliseda (M Mihailović 73’)
Subs not used: GK Sparrow, D Omsberg, D Reynolds II, M Azira
Shots: 14 Shots on goal: 7 Fouls: 24 Offsides: 1 Corners: 3 Possession: 52.5%
FC Cincinnati: GK Tyton, D Pettersson (D van der Werff 74’), D Waston ©, D Deplagne, D Gutman (D Garza 74’), M Cruz (de Jong 27’), M Amaya, M Stanko (F Regattin 59’), F Locadia (F Vazquez 75’), F Kubo, F Gyau
Subs not used: GK Edwards, D Hagglund, D Bailey, M McCabe, F Regattin
Shots: 8 Shots on goal: 1 Fouls: 19 Offsides: 2 Corners: 1 Possession: 47.5%