The Chicago Fire lost 3-2 to Toronto FC last weekend, and it sucked. A bad call led to some poor defense and the Fire blew another lead late. But the fact of the matter is the Fire played some really good soccer last weekend, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon.
The Attack is Glorious
I acknowledge that it does seem weird to talk positively about a team that hasn’t won in three months, and yet here we are. Everything about the Fire’s attack was near perfect. I say near perfect because instead of being up 6-3 at the end of the game, they were down 3-2, so obviously, the final product leaves much to be desired. However, everything that leads up to the final ball; the movement, passing, and especially decision-making have been excellent.
The second goal of the night, the one that ended Kacper Przybylko’s goal drought, was an excellent example of that. After a sustained amount of pressure that resulted in a few missed looks from the Fire forwards, they win a ball from a goal kick, and immediately went to work on the left. Shaqiri, Navarro and Torres make quick work of the TFC defense and float a ball in that’s flicked backward by Gaston Gimenez and put in on a half volley by Kacper. It was quick, efficient, and lethal— everything we’ve been looking for from this team, and it’s finally paying off.
As the season keeps going, we’re only going to see more and more of these kinds of performances. But there’s one thing that could stop them, and that’s their conservative approach. A lot of times in the game, neither Gaston or Fede Navarro got forward and attacks fizzled out to nothing. That’s probably because they’re concerned about giving up too much on defense. But if they’re going to continue attacking and being this dominant, eventually they’re going to have to support the attack more if they’re going to win.
It’s All Mental
The Fire were undone by their mentality again. But it was different this time, I promise. Instead of an inexplicable lapse in judgment or falling asleep at a crucial moment, a handful of bad decisions not exclusively made by them snowballed into an untenable situation.
Refereeing decisions are not made in a vacuum, and for the last several games, the Fire have been preyed on by unfortunate officiating decisions that lead to decisions that cost them games. Against Toronto, It all started with the penalty. After looking at it multiple times, I still don’t think it was a foul, really. Fede doesn't don't extend his arm on the challenge or push off. But he does come in with his shoulder aggressively enough where you’re giving the referee an opportunity to call a foul, and it was in the box. That’s problem one.
Problem two is that the Fire then let that dictate how they defended for the rest of the match. Instead of playing front and in your face, they backed off and gave TFC time on the ball to either make mistakes (which in fairness did happen) or find scoring opportunities. When Pozuelo scored his goal, the Fire were intentionally not closing out because they were worried about giving up a dangerous free kick.
There is a cliche that goes “Play above the whistle.” It means that players shouldn’t let the calls officials make dictate what decisions they make. Some things are going to get called and some things aren’t. The Fire needs to start having that attitude. With MLS refereeing spotty as it is, calls that are a foul one game won’t be fouls the next. And even sometimes, what is and isn’t a foul changes from half to half or from minute to minute. The Fire can not let refereeing decisions dictate how they go about their business. That only leads to pain and giving up 35-yard bangers that cause points to be dropped.