In a way, the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City Saturday night mirrored the team’s 2021 season—bad trouble early on, followed by solid play that wasn’t quite good enough to overcome the deficit.
Despite a good Chicago second half and a lively debut from new defensive midfielder Federico Navarro, two sloppy goals early on were good enough to give Kansas City the victory in front of a packed crowd at Children’s Mercy Park.
Jose Mauri scored the first goal in the fourth minute, after a low shot slipped through Bobby Shuttleworth’s legs—a rare error for the Fire goalkeeper this season. On the second goal just two minutes later, a defensive breakdown by the Fire’s back line led to Dániel Sallói cracking a left-footed shot that forced Shuttleworth to make the save, but the rebound fell to forward Johnny Russell who tapped the ball into the back of the net for Kansas City’s second goal.
“Yeah, they start maybe these first ten, 15 minutes of the game, much (more) aggressive than us, and one little mistake by us opened their game,” said Luka Stojanović, who Fire coach Raphael Wicky deployed as a deep lying midfielder in the first half, despite being the team’s best attacker all season. “I think in this 10-15 minutes we suffer a lot of pressure and it was difficult to cover a lot of space because they attack us also from the side. They really played the first 10-20 minutes.”
At the half, Wicky switched the team to a four at the back formation, bringing on Federico Navarro to operate in front of them. Navarro was active, winning balls all over the field, but at times he may have been a bit too aggressive, picking up a yellow card along the way.
“Of course it’s not easy but I saw a lot of good things out of Federico,” Wicky said. “It’s what we knew of him, winning a lot of balls. Obviously after the yellow card he had to be a little more cautious, and there were certain moments where normally I think he would go even stronger and win even more balls but he showed a lot of character, a lot of strength in the duels, and also with the ball I saw some decent things.”
With 11 matches to play, the Fire are now in 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight points back of CF Montreal and D.C. United for the final playoff spots, who are tied at 31 points.
The Fire’s next two opponents? Away to D.C. (Wednesday night) and at Montreal (Sunday). Six points might just keep the Fire’s playoff hopes alive. Anything short of that, and the team’s attention should fully turn to 2022.
“Like every game in this league, we go there with the mentality of winning,” Wicky said of Wednesday’s game in D.C. “Every game starts at zero and that’s how we are going to go there, regroup, get fresh, prepare and go and take the next opportunity.”
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Terán, D Pineda (F. Navarro 45’), D Bornstein ©, D Sekulić (Espinoza 45’), M Medrán, M Stojanović, M M. Navarro, M Ivanov (Aliseda 70’), F Berić (Offor 45’), F Herbers
Subs not used: GK G. Slonina, D Omsberg, D Kappelhof, M Casas Jr., F Collier
Sporting Kansas City: GK Melia, D Fontas, D Zusi, D Martins, M Sanchez, M Kinda, M Mauri (Shelton 78’), M Walter, F Russell ©, F Pulido (Duke 85’), F Salloi
Subs not used: GK Pulskamp, D Puncec, D Rad, D Dia, F Barber, F Harris
Stats Summary: SKC / CHI
Shots: 16 / 13
Shots on Goal: 6 / 3
Passing Accuracy: 87.6% / 84.7%
Saves: 1 / 1
Corners: 7 / 2
Fouls: 8 / 14
Offsides: 2 / 4
Possession: 61.1% / 38.9%