We all thought we were done with defensive errors costing the Chicago Fire points. By all metrics except the most important one, The Fire should have won the game. They had more shots, more shots on goal, a higher pass completion percentage, a higher possession percentage, and a higher xGoals. Everything the Fire did was better than FC Cincinnati in every way.
They even played well enough to overcome an own goal. Miscommunication between Rafael Czichos and Gabriel Slonina in the 33rd minute meant that a pass off of Czichos’ head that would have been fine if Gaga didn’t come off his line found its way into the back of the net. It took about five minutes for the Fire to get themselves right in their mental space afterward, but after that, they were in control for the rest of the half and for most of the second.
The second half was utterly dominant from a possession and offensive pressure standpoint. Most of the second 45 was played in the Cincinnati half and the Fire were able to create plenty of questions for the Cincy defense to answer. The D was bending for a while and finally broke when Xherdan Shaqiri hit a bullet from one of the Fire’s double-digit corners of the evening, and Jhon Duran liked it on from the near post across goal, where it nestled into the auld onion bag beyond the far post. It was Duran’s first goal in MLS and it was a big one. The Fire tied the game and still had the momentum. They were pushing forward and looked the more dangerous of the two teams. And they were... to themselves. Just over two minutes later, another defensive error, this time by Gaga Slonina. Instead of clearing the ball first time, he took a wide touch that ended up errant. It was picked off by an alert Luciano Acosta and after shedding Wyatt Omsberg making a valiant attempt to recover, slotted the ball calmly into the net. The Fire made a few tokin chances at the end of the game, but the damage was done.
It must be said that most of the Fire played well. Despite not scoring at all, Chinonso Offor’s hold-up play was very effective in the Fire keeping the ball after outlet passes. Gaston Gimenez had one of his best games of the season, being every bit the disruptor his partner Fede Navarro is. When not making mistakes, the defense was largely organized and Jonathan Bornstein and Boris Sekulic were not taken advantage of as much as the Fire outside backs have been the last few weeks. Chris Meuller played exceptionally well, every bit the winger the club has been crying out for since game one against Inter Miami.
However, the problem was the club’s two biggest acquisitions. Czichos, of course, with his own goal was a black mark on an otherwise good performance. But also Xherdan Shaqiri was not good enough. In the first half, he was slow on the ball. His passes were late and he gave the ball away far too often ruining otherwise dangerous attacks. And in the second half, aside from his delivery of corner kicks, he was pretty invisible. If he keeps performing that bad, the Fire are going nowhere.
This was another classic 2020’s Fire performance. Generally good play was undone once again by a mistake at the back and they lose out on points because of it. It’s not too late for them to turn it around, but with every passing game the margin for error is getting slimmer, Their impact players have to start performing and the team has to start winning.
The Chicago Fire have a quick turnaround as they next play on Wednesday 5/15 against the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey.