“It was a really, really good performance,” Fire Head Coach Raphael Wicky said after the match. “It was a mature performance.”
Designated Player Robert Berić opened the scoring for Chicago in the 15th minute with a simple, slotted finish off a smooth pass from Jonathan Bornstein. After a lengthy scoring drought, the Slovenian now has goals in each of the last three matches, and leads the team with five on the season.
Fabian Herbers and Ignacio Aliseda, who switched positions for the match—Herbers going inside as a central attacking midfielder, and Aliseda playing wide—combined for the second goal. Aliseda curled a pass through to a streaking Herbers in the 23rd minute, who calmly finished it to make it 2-0 Chicago.
Under Wicky, Herbers has seen action in several positions this season—wide on both wings, as the forward, as the box-to-box midfielder, and tonight as the attacking midfielder. He said he doesn’t have a favorite, though.
“In this particular position, the No. 10 role, I think I communicate well with the forwards, with Berić,” Herbers said of his position against Houston. “Defensively, Rapha asked me when we’re under pressure to help defensively as well, to come in as [a No.] 8, and help Gastón [Giménez] and Álvaro [Medrán] to close the midfield. I think on both ends of the field it worked well.”
The Fire’s domination of the first half continued. After a VAR decision overturned a chance to make it 3-0 from the penalty spot, a few minutes later Álvaro Medrán scored on a solo effort after making a brilliant run from midfield, shielding the ball from several Houston defenders along the way.
Not long after that, an apparent goal by Djordje Mihailović that would have made it 4-0 was overturned by VAR, because Herbers was found to be offside.
The Fire went into halftime leading 3-0, which could have easily been 5-0 if not for VAR.
“The first half was almost perfect,” Wicky said. “Houston didn’t really have much going forward. We were really aggressive, well organized, we were really good with the ball, we had chances of scoring even more than three goals. That was basically the perfect half.”
Wicky said he expected the second half would be tougher than the first. While Houston narrowly won the possession battle in the second half, the Fire still controlled the game defensively, and didn’t make any of the errors that have plagued the team this season, keeping the clean sheet intact.
“I think it’s a great result, but we were not before the worst team, and now we are not the best team,” Fire Captain Francisco Calvo said after the match. “We are just an honest team that always wants to win, always wants to perform well. Sometimes things don’t go our way.”
Late in the match, CJ Sapong, who came on for Berić, was brought down in the box. His initial attempt was saved, but Houston goalkeeper Marko Marić came off his line, and the kick was retaken. Sapong buried the second attempt into the left side netting, giving the Fire their biggest win of the season.
Despite the lopsided scoreline, Herbers was able to put things in perspective after the match, delivering the best quote of the night: “I’d rather win four times 1-0 than one time 4-0.”
With the win, the Fire move to 12th in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the 10th and final playoff spot. The Fire are back at Soldier Field this Sunday to face Atlanta United (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN & ESPN+).
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Pineda, D Calvo ©, D Bornstein (D Navarro 74’), M Mihailović (M Collier 63’), M Giménez, M Medrán (D Bronico 74’), M Aliseda, M Herbers (M Azira 87’), F Berić (F Sapong 74’)
Subs not used: GK Slonina, M Gutiérrez, D Omsberg, D Reynolds II
Houston Dynamo: GK Maric, D Lundkvist, D Struna, D Figueroa, D Bizama, M Rodriguez (F Lemoine HT), M Hansen (F Lassiter HT), M Vera © (M Garcia HT), M Ceren (M Martinez 78’), F Ramirez, F Quintero (F Manotas 64’)
Subs not used: GK Cropper, D Fuenmayor, D Valentin, D Cabrera