Coming into tonight’s game, We knew there was a chance we were going to be some more regression into the old Chicago Fire. The bad Fire. The rollover and die FIre. The defense not communicating and making mistakes Fire. With Rafael Czichos out with a red card in the last match and Kacper Przybylko still out with an injury, the club was down to their thin bench options. Ezra Hendrickson opted for playing Carlos Teran at center back, instead of dropping Mauricio Pineda back, and Chinonso Offor at striker instead of one of their teenagers.
We also knew that this was an excellent opportunity to set things right. The Men in Red were facing an Atlanta United team without their biggest weapon in Josef Martinez and were themselves winless in their last four. The question going in was which Fire team we would get. It didn’t take long for us to get our answer.
The First half was a disaster for a defense that’s regressed over the last two weeks. Ronaldo Cisneros scored three in the first thirty-six minutes, all of which came with some sort of defensive faux pas. The first goal saw the center backs step up in an offside trap while the fullbacks did not get the memo. Both Boris Sekulic and Miguel Navarro failed to move forward, allowing Cisneros to sit onside in the pocket created by the CBs and calmly slotted it past Gaga Slonina.
The second came off a careless turnover. A throw-in was turned over cheaply in midfield by Xherdan Shaqiri, Gaga made a save on the first attempt on goal, but he let the ball rebound into the middle of the field where Cisneros tapped it in. The third goal was kept onside in the buildup once again by Boris Sekulic, who did not step with his teammates. Communication along the backline without Czichos was almost nonexistent, and the Fire looked more like it was 2021, rather than 2022.
It wasn’t all great for Atlanta. In fact, they’d probably trade one of those goals for a healthy Miles Robinson. 18 minutes in, he went down with a non-contact injury to what looked like his Achilles and had to be stretchered off. Before that, the Fire equalized on a well-played goal. A recycled corner kick ended up at the foot of Navarro who crossed it in front of goal and onto the sliding foot of Chino.
The second half was much better. Atlanta let off the gas a bit, allowing the Fire some room to work, but also because we saw a glimpse of the future. Chris Meuller came on at halftime and showed what the Fire have been missing since Przymyslaw Frankowski left for France, a true winger. He had an instinctual knack for finding little pockets of space to exploit Atlanta’s defense and lead to some dangerous moments, including a header on goal that Bobby Shuttleworth had to get on the ground to save.
Tonight was both better and worse than we expected. The Fire got destroyed and the regression to nightmares of the defense’s past was complete. But they scored a goal from somewhere other than the penalty spot, and it was a good one! They also caught a 45-minute glimpse of what it was like to have a real winger play again when new signing Chris Meuller made his debut at halftime. There’s a reason “old habits die hard” is so overused, and the 2022 Fire just showed why.
The Fire will return next week at Soldier Field against FC Cincinnati.