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Chicago Fire draw 0-0 with Orlando City in home opener

A controversial VAR call erased a second half Orlando goal, helping the Fire keep a clean sheet for a second straight week

MLS: Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire
Chicago Fire FC midfielder Gaston Gimenez (30) makes a tackle on Orlando City SC midfielder Mauricio Pereyra (10) in the second half at Soldier Field.
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games this season, it’s become very clear the Chicago Fire are a defense-first team. The Fire posted a second-straight clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Orlando City in front of 25,477 fans Saturday night at Soldier Field. But, while the Fire’s defense prevented Orlando from registering a single shot on target, the Chicago attack was toothless for much of the match.

Two straight scoreless draws to start the 2022 campaign. Is that concerning? Or inspiring? For Fire coach Ezra Hendrickson, a former MLS defender, it means his team is getting the most important thing right.

“If we’re not gonna win the game, you’re not gonna win the game, because we’re not gonna allow you to score,” Hendrickson said after the match.

The centerback pairing of Rafael Czichos and Wyatt Omsberg was strong for a second straight week, and Gabriel Slonina earned his sixth career clean sheet in his thirteenth career start.

But, as strong as the Fire were defensively, they still needed help from a VAR decision to keep that clean sheet. It appeared Orlando had found the opening goal in the 73rd minute when Junior Urso’s shot deflected off Boris Sekulic and sneaked past Slonina. But after a lengthy video review by match official Ismir Pekmic, the goal was reversed because Pekmic determined Ercan Kara used his arms to trap the ball just prior to Urso’s shot.

“This was a clear and obvious handling offense in the attacking phase of play,” Pekmic said in response to an emailed question after the match.

Hendrickson said from his vantage point, the referee made the right decision.

“Thank God for VAR,” Hendrickson said with a laugh.

Despite the Fire’s strong play defensively, the team struggled to create scoring chances. Orlando seemed content to keep numbers behind the ball and play for the point. The Fire’s best scoring chance came late in second half stoppage time, when Xherdan Shaqiri, who created a game-high four chances, sent a cross to the back post to a streaking Brian Gutierrez, who headed the ball just over the goal.

While the Fire created plenty of good chances but failed to convert in the opening game of the season last week against Inter Miami, the team’s attack was lackluster for most of this match, something Hendrickson guaranteed would change as the season continues.

“It’s not too concerning, because we have enough quality to get some goals,” Hendrickson said. “The goals will come. Had we been sitting here after a 3-3 tie, I wouldn’t have liked that. Not that I like a 0-0 tie, but at least we’re doing the defensive part of it.”

Hendrickson also went out of his way to praise the play of designated player Gastón Giménez, who again started in a deep-lying midfield role. Giménez often draws the ire of fans for taking poor shots and a perceived lack of effort, but he led the team in recoveries (11) and tackles won (4) on the night.

“He showed me something very, very special,” Hendrickson mentioned without even being asked about Giménez, “The way he played today, the ground he covered today, that’s what you need to see from your DP, and that trickles down. When the young guys see your DP making tackles like that, working hard like that, you have no choice.”

Next up, the Fire travel to Washington, D.C. to take on D.C. United at Audi Field on Saturday, March 12 (6:30 p.m. CT. WGN-TV and CF97 Live).

Chicago Fire FC: GK Slonina, D Sekulić, D Czichos ©, D Omsberg, D M. Navarro, M Gimenez, M Pineda, M Herbers (M Gutiérrez 63’), M Shaqiri, M Ivanov (F Durán 78’), F Przybyłko

Subs not used: GK Richey, D Burks, D Bornstein, D Espinoza, M Casas Jr., M F. Navarro, F Offor

Orlando City SC: GK Gallese, D Ruan, D Moutinho, D Schlegel, D Carlos, M Araujo, M Pereyra ©, M Urso, M MIchel (F Akindele 52’), F Pato (F Kara 72’), F Torres (M Perea 88’)

Subs not used: GK Stajduhar, M Mendez, D Smith, D Halliday, M DeZart, D Williams

Stats Summary: CHI / ORL

Shots: 9 / 5

Shots on Goal: 4 / 0

Passing Accuracy: 71.6% / 72.8%

Saves: 0 / 4

Corners: 5 / 3

Fouls: 21 / 14

Offsides: 3 / 1

Possession: 51.6% / 48.4%

Attendance: 25,477

Referee: Ismir Pekmic

Assistant Referees: Jason White, Tyler Wyrostek

Fourth Official: Matthew Thompson

VAR: Sorin Stoica, Claudiu Badea