The Chicago Fire beat Toronto FC, as they should have. And at the end of the day, it looked pretty easy for Ezra’s men. It was exactly the kind of performance you’d expect from a team with the amount of talent on paper that the Fire have. It stands in stark contrast to Saturday, where they blew a 2-0 halftime lead. The irony of this is that in some ways, they played worse.
Ezra Hendrickson made three changes to the lineup that was Jekyll and Hyde against the Crew. Miguel Navarro and Gaston Gimenez were out due to yellow card accumulation and were replaced by Jonathan Bornstein and Mauricio Pineda respectively. Meanwhile, Boris Sekulic was back in for Jhan Espinoza at right-back. The consistency worked in their favor, as the Fire took the lead just four minutes in.
Jhon Duran disrupted a backpass and the ball ended up at the feet of Chris Mueller who hit it into space where Duran could take it to the house. He blasted it past Quintin Westburg who guessed the wrong way and it tickled the back of the net with an audible swish.
that’s basically what the rest of the first half was like, bar the last five minutes. Jhon Duran was disruptive, punishing TFC’s high line and forcing them into spots they didn’t want to be. Whenever the Fire recovered the ball, they bombed it into space, where their 18-year-old striker could make a play and force defenders into risky challenges. Early on, the referee wasn’t biting on the close calls, but by the end of the half, both TFC center-backs were on yellow cards.
They were also down two goals. Mauricio Pineda intercepted a ball in his own box and belted a ball to the halfway line. An absolutely audacious flick by Brian Gutierrez (that he’s done at least once a game in his last three appearances) had Duran in on goal again after muscling his way off a defender, and once again he did not miss— slamming the ball with his left foot into the back of the net.
And that was the game. Unlike Saturday, where Columbus came out with fire, passion, and a different tactical outlook; TFC had only one of those three, and it wasn’t fire nor passion. Bob Bradley switched to a diamond 4-4-2, obviously trying to capture the same magic that worked for Caleb Porter last weekend. But alas for them, it did not. The second half was a bunch of whatevering; punctuated by a couple of shots that went over the goal. One from TFC’s Domenico Criscito who hit one from 25 yards that Slonina had to go full stretch to save, and one from Kacper Przybylko who hit a dipper that was just too which and hit the top of the net.
This was the performance we’ve been waiting to see from the 2022 Chicago Fire. They had a good game plan and executed it well, and then smothered the game in the second half after taking a lead into halftime. We weren’t sure if they were capable of doing this winning after taking an early lead, but they proved they could do it.
In an interesting twist is that despite the disappointment at San Jose and the heartbreak of Columbus, the Fire have won 3 of their last five, because Charlotte was off tonight, they’re only 6 points back of the last playoff place, although with an extra game played of the teams between them. It’s still a long tough road ahead of them to get there but it is doable. Such is the nature of MLS. Just when you think you’re out... it pulls you back in.
The Fire next play Saturday at Soldier Field against the Seattle Sounders.