An unchanged lineup, three more goals, three more points, Jonathan Bornstein captaining the side and celebrating with the fans at full time. Very little changed for the Chicago Fire between Saturday’s 3-0 win and the 3-1, come-from-behind, triumph over Orlando City on Wednesday night at Soldier Field.
After an inconsistent beginning to the season where the team often looked completely disconnected, the Fire have suddenly coalesced around what appears to be the exact right combo of players and tactics to produce their two best performances of the season.
“Sometimes you cannot put all your best players together on the field, you have to find the best mix,” said Fire head coach Raphael Wicky, insisting that the players are more important than the particular system.
The man stirring that mix was once again Alvaro Medran in a man of the match display that included two more assists to go with his pair from Saturday, this time to set up Boris Sekulic and Robert Beric. While those dimes will likely see him cash in on a second-consecutive Team of the Week inclusion, it’s the rest of his work that stood out on Wednesday night.
He cleared an Orlando chance off the line in the first half when the game was tied 0-0, he got in the face of Orlando’s Junior Urso following a challenge that eventually forced Mauricio Pineda off with an injury, and he chastised Chinonso Offor and Przemyslaw Frankowski for not simply clearing the ball when the Fire were holding on up 2-1 late.
“That’s the thing which makes me the most happy,” said Wicky of Medran’s leadership and selfless play. “We all know that Alvaro is a great player, he’s a fantastic footballer…I think his defensive performance was quite good and that’s what a center-mid also needs. I’m happy that he accepts this role and that he’s willing sometimes to do the dirty work.”
Medran’s words to his teammates got results. The Fire weren’t rattled by further provocations from Urso and, following Medran’s admonishment, Offor and Frankowski sealed the game on a fast-break just moments after the Spaniard was in their face. Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth did his own share of shouting (including a loud “What the f--- was that?” directed at anyone in earshot after poor marking on a late Orlando corner as the Fire clung to the lead).
“I think those things are easier to respond to when things are going well,” Shuttleworth said of players holding each other accountable.
As they entered the locker room after the game, there was a different kind of yelling from the Fire players: that of celebration and joy, loud enough that it reverberated through the bowels of Soldier Field.
Shuttleworth sees the responses of teammates to his and Medran’s words as an indicator beyond the scoreboard that something has changed for the better within this team.
“At the moment we’re picking up better positions, we’re listening to each other, nobody’s taking anything personally, [and] everybody’s responding in a positive direction.”
- Both Ignacio Aliseda and Mauricio Pineda left Wednesday’s game with apparent injuries.
- On Aliseda, Wicky said the substitution was precautionary and “very smart” by Aliseda to let the medical team know he didn’t feel he could continue at 100%. Wicky didn’t have full details yet but said it “shouldn’t be that bad.”
- Pineda had the aforementioned knee-on-knee collision with Urso, of which Wicky said “that should hopefully not be that long or that bad.”