It was expected from all but the most delusional of fans that the Chicago Fire come out of their match against the Philidelphia Union with a loss. The Union have not lost at home all season, and despite going into Cincinnati and laying an egg last week, they’re still the best team in the league. So the result, a 4-1 defeat, isn’t exactly surprising. What is surprising, though, is how things went from bad to worse and weren’t that bad simultaneously. The Fire goal was well played and accentuated everything going right with the team at the moment. And everything else was the argument for why they won’t make the playoffs.
The First half of the first half was all Philidelphia, as one would expect. But over the normal course of things, the Fire were dealing with the Union’s possession relatively well. Where things really went wrong was where they usually do, individual mistakes and lapses in judgment. While they were able to deal with Philly’s possession okay, the Fire were careless when they had the ball, often turning it over immediately after winning it.
The Union’s first two goals were direct results of Fire errors. The first came 15 minutes in. A poor end to an attack leads to a perfectly executed counter. It took three passes to find a wide-open Daniel Gazdag who shimmied out of the way of Fire defenders attempting to track back and fired it into the back of the net. The second goal came when a poor Boris Sekulic clearance was put on goal. Gaga Slonina’s attempt to catch it was thwarted by the crossbar. It was knocked into the path of Jack Elliott who tapped it into the goal. Those two goals were emblematic of all of the Fire’s problems this year. They either get killed on the counter or come undone with poor decision-making and turnovers.
There was life in this team, however. Despite ending the first half down 2-0, the Fire had multiple good opportunities at goal and were only stopped because Andre Blake is the best goalkeeper in the league. Jairo Torres had an early opportunity where he controlled a cross with his chest and kicked it hard and low to Blake’s right at an awkward angle. He gave up a rebound that Chris Mueller couldn’t capitalize on it. But it was a sign of the quality that we were promised when he signed with the club, and if he keeps improving, he’ll get to where he needs to be after recovering from his injury.
The Fire got one back in the second half when they executed a perfect press into a quick shot. Fede Navarro won the ball in the Philly half of the field, and a pass to Shaqiri and a through ball later, Chris Mueller scored. At that point, the Fire felt like they got back in it, but another two goals from Phillidelphia quickly debased us of that notion. However, the loss isn’t the real tragedy of tonight.
Gaston Gimenez was stretchered off after grabbing his hamstring, leaving the Fire with tough decisions in the coming weeks. Their replacement for him, Mauricio Pineda, is currently deputized at center back because of the club’s injuries there, which means there are precious few options for the cub. In reality, this is the biggest test of the fire coaching staff this season.
This game was enlightening. It showed both why the Fire will make the playoffs; They press well, they’re dangerous in attack, and they have a defense that plays well while not making mistakes. And it showed why they won't make the playoffs; they make too many mistakes on defense, they have a tendency to lose focus at bad times, and they’re plagued by injuries at important positions. What’s going to decide their fate is their ability to overcome their worst while always playing their best. It’s doable, but the outcome is still up in the air.
The Fire next play Saturday against NYCFC in Bridgeview