It was all going so well. On Wednesday night at Soldier Field, the Chicago Fire were a mere eight minutes away from their third straight win at home and third win in four games overall. Gaston Gimenez scored his first goal for the club, Chicago Red Stars breakout striker Own Goal doubled the lead, and Bobby Shuttleworth had made a few big saves worthy of a clean sheet.
The circumstances being what they were, assistant manager Frank Klopas (filling in for a second game while Raphael Wicky is away from the team due to a family matter) subbed off Gaston Gimenez in the 74th minute with the Paraguayan and his midfield companion Alvaro Medran both on yellow cards and Przemyslaw Frankowski, who had been the Fire’s best player to that point, in the 75th. They were replaced by Fabian Herbers, a less defensive but more industrious player than Gimenez, and debutant Stanislav Ivanov who had yet to play a competitive match in 2021. These are exactly the sort of subs you make when you’re seeing out a 2-0 lead and the opposing team is creating nothing. And then, just like that, it’s gone.
“That’s the thing, after the game I’m the best analyst in the world,” said Klopas when asked if he wished in hindsight that he’d made different substitution decisions. “It’s always the next play with a 2-0 lead…we had some opportunities to make that next play. I made some subs late in the game and we made an initial push, but then we dropped a little too deep and invited too much pressure on ourselves.”
That dropping too deep was most evident on DC’s first goal, when the entire Fire backline left 18-year-old Kevin Paredes wide open on the penalty spot and he did well to steer his shot into the bottom corner. The second goal followed four minutes later, a rare lapse in judgement by Jonathan Bornstein who committed a clear foul on Andy Najar that drew a penalty converted by Ola Kamara.
Klopas took responsibility for the way the team was managed down the stretch. Though Frankowski had been strong, he said they’re being careful not to overwork him since returning from the Euros and in the middle of a three-game-week. As for Ivanov, Klopas said the goal was 15 or 20 minutes if the right situation arose.
Instead, the Fire dropped two points at home to a fellow Eastern Conference team currently outside the playoff places. With an away-heavy schedule later in 2021 to accommodate the Chicago Bears, it makes the late lead sting even more.
“When you play at home and you drop points, it’s always a missed opportunity,” Klopas said. “We know the amount of home games we have in the front of the season and we have to take advantage of that.”
Klopas managed the Fire for the second game in a row while Raphael Wicky is home in Switzerland on a family matter. The club has not commented on the specifics of the visit, nor have they confirmed whether or not Wicky will return for Saturday’s match with Toronto.
After Wednesday’s game, Klopas said he talks to Wicky every day (including a brief text conversation after Wednesday’s game) and said that “Things are improving and getting better with his dad, which is a positive” while also stressing that such family matters were far more important than soccer.
“In moments like this the most important thing is family.”