Chicago Fire 0, Orlando City 1
The Chicago Fire lost their first game of the season away to Orlando this past weekend. Getting a result from the match proved to be a difficult task, even before the teams took the field. The Fire was missing Xherdan Shaqiri out because of injury and three other starters, Rafael Czichos, Fabian Herbers, and Miguel Navarro, were out in health and safety protocols. Two moments of inexperience led to youngster Brian Gutierrez being sent off with a red card right before halftime, putting the Fire at even more of a disadvantage for the latter half of the game. Six games into the season, the Fire have kept four shutouts but have also been shut out four times. So some good things, and some definitely bad things. Here is my biggest takeaway and some other opinions on the match, starting with the player ratings:
G. Slonina // 9
B. Sekulic // 6
W. Omsberg // 8
M. Pineda // 7
J. Espinoza // 6
F. Navarro // 6
G. Gimenez // 4
S. Ivanov // 5
B. Gutierrez // 3
J. Bornstein // 5
K. Przybylko // 5
Key Takeaway from the match: No ideas when attacking
It certainly wasn’t a great afternoon for the guys, and there were very few moments of brilliance to comment on. Sloppy build-up, missed opportunities, and poor decision-making were all prevalent in this performance. The majority of the attacking play was disappointing, and at times it was devastatingly bad. It’s extremely worrying that on offense, without Shaqiri, these players look like they’re playing soccer for the first time. There was very little creativity on display. It seemed like they were trying to force the same move every time they were on the ball, and it was never going to work. There were multiple opportunities where they could’ve tried something new but hesitated to take the risk. On multiple occasions you had players with acres of space in front of them where they could have tried something creative, but it appeared they deliberately resorted to playing it safe rather than trying something ‘high risk-high reward’. Most of the 7 chances the team did create ended up going well wide of the goal or sailing over or were very poorly hit shots right at the goalkeeper. Kacper Przybylko had another lackluster afternoon. There were a handful of opportunities he should have done better with. Some of these chances he’s been getting are becoming harder and harder to excuse. A lot of them are goals that he is used to scoring and that you’d expect a striker to poach home. Not only in this game, but in one’s prior, there have been moments where he receives the ball in an extremely dangerous area in the 18 yard box and you think “surely he must score this one”, and then nothing comes to fruition. It’s becoming a very curious case and he really must start scoring soon if the Fire are going to maintain this playoff spot. Same goes for Stanislav Ivanov. If he’s going to be a starter for this team, the wasted opportunities need to start being converted. Too many times he’s made a run into the box or moved into a decent position, but then when the ball falls to him it’s as if his mind has gone blank and he no longer knows what to do. I think when Jairo Torres comes in next month that he will bolster this attack a little, but it can’t be left down to him and Shaqiri. These other attackers really need to step it up in the coming weeks, because right now it’s simply not good enough for a side hoping to be in the post-season.
I’d like to write a bit about the midfield, because it was basically non-existent. Partly due to Gutierrez getting sent off, but you have to look at the two midfielders’ response to that. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t great. Time after time the Orlando waltzed through the midfield like it was nothing, and it resulted in them getting 21 shots off in the match. After two decent games in a row, it feels like Gaston Gimenez has taken one step forward and two steps back. An incredibly uninspired, totally flat and lifeless performance from our Designated Player. Yes, I’m going to continue to stress that he is a Designated Player. His body language this entire match made him look like he was uniterested. He’s walking around, wildly spraying passes all around the field, getting caught out of position, he shot into a wall of defenders on a couple of occasions when he had passing options, and all around it was just a bad performance. Especially when you’ve got a midfielder sent off in the first half, you’d expect him to step up and take the reigns in the second half. And then there’s Federico Navarro, who didn’t have an entirely terrible match, but again he looked like a shell of the Federico Navarro we saw last season. The midfielder had moments where he made a poor decison that led to a wasted opportunity or a chance for Orlando. I thought he was slow getting back at times, and he also didn’t try to take control of the match. The midfield has been wildly inconsistent this season. They need to be playing the way they played against DC United and Sporting KC week in and week out if this team is going to have a shot at playoffs this year.
We have got to give praise to the defense who have been amazing game after game, and kept it to just one goal in this game against Orlando. I would have liked to see more from Sekulic and Espinoza going forward, but they were put in a difficult situation following the red card so it’s understandable why they were hesitant. Unfortunately Gabe Slonina wasn’t able to register another clean sheet, but his performance was exceptional and the reason the scoreline was kept down to one was largely down to him. Thankfully Wyatt Omsberg continued his brilliant run of form. I’m really proud of his performances in the last two games where he’s taken control of the defense in the absence of Czichos. Overall the defense was well organized once again. It was unfortunate that the midfielders in front of them allowed the Orlando attackers to run right through them with as much ease as they did, but luckily for the Fire the defenders maintained their shape well enough to put the Orlando players at difficult angles for most of the shots they took.
If performances like this one continue, playoffs will be a long shot for this team. But, I don’t think these sort of games will happen often. It feels like Ezra Hendrickson and his staff are on the cusp of something, they just need to get more out of 5 or 6 of these starters. The addition of Jairo Torres in May might change some things, but I hope we see more additions through the door at some point during the summer. At the moment, you can definitely argue that we’re looking at a playoff team, but for now its only debateable. We are yet to see something that solidifies the idea that “Yes, this Chicago Fire team is in fact a playoff team and can be a contender in the post-season.”