The Chicago Fire shepherded another Florida team to another scoreless draw. Here are some takeaways from the match. One good, one bad, and one sad.
The Defense is Good
The Fire continue to get better on defense. Rafael Czichos’ acquisition has already paid dividends. Wyatt Omsberg had his best performance in a Fire shirt, and arguably, the best performance of his career. He lead the team in tackles and duels won, and didn’t allow Orlando’s bright young signings and superstar talents to get a foothold in the game for the longest time. Czichos has given his center-back partner the confidence to play aggressively and trust that if he makes a mistake (which does happen to even the best defenders) that someone will be there to help make things better. It’s is more than just a single quality player influencing everything around them, the way they’re being coached has changed almost everything.
Ezra Hendrickson’s defensive philosophy seems to be more aggressive than past coaching staffs. Since the removal of Frank Yallop, every Fire coach has preached a possession-based style, which sounds good on paper, until an errant pass that goes into touch, or a goal kick, or a foul, or something else causes possession to change. However, Ezra has found the magical dry-erase marker lines on the whiteboard to get them to press together, control space in midfield, and generally play defense as a team. The midfield three, including Shaqiri, stayed compact and made it difficult for Orlando find room to safely advance the ball. What joy they did find was sporadic at best, and their best chance came off of a mistake that we’ll discuss later.
The fact is, the team’s worst area is now the team’s best. And it’s keeping it competitive.
The Offense is Worrying
The biggest worry is the lack of production on offense, especially their failure to get Kacper Przybylko involved for more than one or two plays again. It’s true that he did have one good attempt on goal that he should have finished, but in truth, it was another anonymous performance. It’s not his fault.
The Fire, despite being solid in possession and on defense, have yet to put the fear of God into opposing teams, and their biggest problem is not easily solved. The fact is that the team has trouble creating space vertically, and is going to continue to do so. They don’t have the speed on the wings or at center forward to push defenses back to create pockets of space for their creative players to work. This ends up meaning that the Fire’s attacks are easy to disrupt as they’re forced to rely on 1 and 2 touch passing in the midfield, and the defense can cheat up to close passing lanes and generally gum up the center, sort of making the Fire’s good defensive job backfire, because once they turn the ball over, they can’t quickly transition out of the space.
This problem can only be solved with a summer transfer. So until then, the Fire are going to have to take advantage of set pieces and start scoring on their 1-3 scoring opportunities they can create from the run of play.
The Gaston Gimenez Problem
There are things Gaston Gimenez has done very well in 2022. His energy and willingness to run down balls in midfield has been a treat to watch, especially after last season. His pass completion percentage has been through the roof, and his ability to keep possession in tight spaces has helped the Fire take control of the game on many occasions. His positioning and ability to disrupt in central midfield, where he’s comfortable, is a quality that the coaching staff can use to their advantage.
But then, there are times when he does things like this:
love watching Gaston Gimenez get stuck in pic.twitter.com/BrkO1QUWYC— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 6, 2022
Gimenez has no idea what to do inside his own box other than stand around and hope someone shoots the ball right at his foot. Fortunately for the Fire, VAR caught a handball earlier in the buildup that rendered the goal moot, but his lack of whatever other players have in understanding the game and their role in it on a play by play basis is killing the club. And it’s not just on defense either. His Bruno Fernandes-like ability to bring promising attacks to a screeching halt by shooting from 35 yards because there’s a foot and a half of daylight only compounds his issues, and it makes the decision to bring him back instead of using his DP slot on another high-level attacking midfielder, especially with Mauricio Pineda and Fede Navarro in the squad, even more baffling.
Gaston Gimenez is not a bad soccer player, but he is not what the Fire need.