The Fire won their second game in a row over the weekend against Sporting Kansas City. Things are starting to solidify in our minds about what this team is and what they’re capable of. It’s time to find out what we learned.
This Team is Good
The Fire went into the game against SKC heavy favorites and for the first time in a long time played to their expectations. Sporting were to be without their four best players and Peter Vermes’ side were ripe for the picking. However, past Fire squads would fold, not being able to handle playing as the favorite. They’d figure out ways to play down to their competition and eventually, screw themselves out of three points, and oftentimes out of points entirely.
This team did not do that.
The first half was the best half of soccer in at least a year, maybe even years. They dominated the tempo of the game and while scoring chances didn’t come readily for them, they kept SKC on the back foot so as they couldn’t sneak a goal in the few times they were able to sustain any kind of offensive presence.
They were able to feed Kacper Przybylko properly and he rewarded them with two excellent finishes, and as a whole on offense, despite some problems, looked coordinated and cohesive. Every player played their role, and for all 90 minutes, they were the team they should have been.
On defense, they were remarkably calm and organized. You’d think after 3 games we’d be used to having a defense that doesn’t make big mistakes, but after 3+ years of shooting themselves in the foot, it’s still pleasantly surprising when they play competently. Rafael Czichos should be in the conversation for MLS newcomer of the year and defensive player of the year, if not MVP, and Wyatt Omsberg is proving himself to be an above-average MLS center-back.
This team can do some damage in the east this season and things are only going to get better for the club. Xherdan Shaqiri is trending upward in quality of play, and Mexican phenom Jairo Torres is joining from Atlas on May 1st. It’s time to get excited and shed some of that pit of the stomach feeling we get every gameday.
It’s Not Perfect Yet
One of the more anxiety-inducing things about the 2022 Chicago Fire is that despite the good results to start the season, they still have a long way to go as far as optimizing their play and players goes. The Fire still have verticality problems, as illustrated in the highlight embedded in this Matt Doyle tweet.
The Fire have some nice moments in build-up play. Once they get to the final third, though, it's a lot of this -- guys reacting instead of making pro-active runs.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 19, 2022
Got to improve upon this over the course of the season. A real test for Ezra. pic.twitter.com/VQjZJgXBK8
The buildup on the right side of the play is excellent between Sekulic, Przybylko, and Ivanov but Shaqiri, Navarro, and Herbers are nowhere near where they need to be to finish off that play with at least a shot on goal.
This is mostly a consequence of not having a true winger on that side of the ball. Both Navarro and Herbers are returning from their defensive duties and are far behind the play, and Shaqiri is where he should be if the play stalls out and the ball needs to switch out of the corner. Unfortunately, that leaves a gaping hole at the back post where no one can get to a cross.
The solution for this, I’m somewhat sorry to say, probably needs to be a change in personnel. Herbers works hard there’s no question that’s true, but he can’t stretch the field or get in the proper positions to make runs at the far post on time. Brian Gutierrez, on the other hand, showed that he can do those things, and going forward, at least for the next month, should be getting those starting minutes over Herbers unless Fabi can be convinced to stay higher up the pitch, and can start to read these attacking movements.
Against better teams than SKC. the Fire are going to not be able to get away with wasting good attacking movements like this.