The Chicago Fire are eight matches into a complete rebuild of the team. There are bound to be ups and downs.
Saturday night against New York City FC was definitely a down. After a fairly even first half between the two sides, the Cityzens scored twice in a strong second half, beating Chicago 3-1 in a match played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.
Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow made his first career MLS start in the match for Chicago, after Bobby Shuttleworth was ruled out shortly before the match. Shuttleworth tweaked his groin in the Fire’s win over FC Cincinnati, and wasn’t able to recover in time for the match.
“We told him just play your game,” Wicky said of his debutant goalkeeper. “Don’t overthink, just try to enjoy, and I think he started well, he started well with that big save, after 3-4 minutes, that gave him some confidence.”
Defensive mistakes have killed the Fire all season, and they popped up again early in this match. In the 16th minute, Keaton Parks floated into the box, and beat Sparrow on the far post off a feed from Alexandru Mitrita.
There was a lot of fault on this one to go around—Boris Sekulić was a yard behind the rest of the back line, holding Parks onside. Sparrow should have made the save. But after the match, defender Mauricio Pineda admitted the blame should be on his shoulders.
“That first goal was on me,” Pineda said. “I tried to step up a little bit, to get him to be offside, I probably just could have kept running with him. I took the blame for that first goal, and I should have done better on that.”
Shortly before halftime, Pineda made up for his defensive mistake, tapping home the equalizer on a set piece.
“It was a corner kick that we’ve worked on a lot,” Pineda said. “I find myself in that same spot often, so I have to be ready what that flick on the first post comes in. Luckily (Francisco) Calvo got ahead of the defender, and got that flick to that back post spot, and I was just there to tap it in.”
The two teams ended the half knotted at one goal apiece, but Wicky noted once again, the Fire squandered too many offensive chances. Przemyslaw Frankowski lost the ball in the final third a number of times, and the Fire again struggled to get the ball to striker Robert Berić, who put his one good chance of the night straight at NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson.
“I think we saw a good 45 minutes where we created quite a lot of chances again,” Wicky said. “We have to be clinical. It was good that we came back just before halftime, but we could’ve scored minimum one, if not two before. Those are the key moments.”
The Cityzens opened the second half with an early goal, when Anton Tinnerholm received the ball wide open in the box, and slotted it past Sparrow on the far post.
Again, the Fire were lax defensively—this time it was Miguel Navarro who didn’t stay with Tinnerholm. And again, it was a shot Sparrow should have stopped.
“I have to watch it again,” Wicky said. “Maybe Connor could do a little better. But, we’re not going to start blaming one player, because it’s too easy that he gets that shot there.”
Heading into the match, NYCFC had only scored three goals all season. In the 75th minute, they matched their season total, scoring their third of the night when Alex Ring buried a beautiful pass across the box from Tinnerholm.
Of the three goals the Fire gave up, this is the only one that should have been tough to stop.
“It is what it is,” Wicky said. “At the end of the day, we have to talk about the positive, which is that we create a lot. And we talk again about the same thing, we gave up two easy goals.”
With the loss, the Fire fall to 2-5-1 on the season, currently sitting at 11th in MLS Eastern Conference. Next up, the Fire visit Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH for a match against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, Sept. 2 (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN-TV & ESPN+).
Chicago Fire FC: GK Sparrow, D Sekulić (M Azira 85’), D Calvo ©, D Pineda, D Navarro, M Frankowski (M Gutiérrez 85’), M Herbers (D Bornstein 71’), M Giménez, M Medrán (D Bronico 84’), F Berić ( F Collier 66’), F Aliseda
Subs not used: GK Slonina, D Omsberg, D Reynolds II, M Mihailović
Shots: 12 Shots on goal: 6 Fouls: 7 Offsides: 2 Corners: 8 Possession: 44.3%
New York City FC: GK Johnson, D Matarrita (D Thorarinsson 79’), D Callens, D Chanot, D Tinnerholm, M Sands (M Acevedo 88’), M Parks, M Ring ©, F Mitrita (M Moralez HT), F Heber (F Castellanos 66’), F Medina (F Mackay-Steven 79’)
Subs not used: GK Stuver, D Scally, M Rocha, F Tajouri-Shradi
Shots: 19 Shots on goal: 7 Fouls: 13 Offsides: 3 Corners: 8 Possession: 55.7%