Over 90 minutes of soccer were played Sunday afternoon in Subaru Park, but the Chicago Fire’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union came down to just one moment. It was a sequence of events that halted what could’ve been the best performance of the season and instead was a reminder of how much of an effect one decision can have on a game. But still, 90 minutes were played. So here’s what happened during that time.
Despite Cory Burke threatening early on, it was the Chicago Fire who struck first in the 11th minute. Boris Sekulic set up in his usual spot off the corner of the box and whipped in a cross, somehow going over a Philly defender and landing right on the head of Przemyslaw Frankowski, who finished it to the back of the net. From there, the Fire actually looked dangerous, pressing the Philadelphia Union and holding possession. Unfortunately, that all ended in a bang in the 31st minute. I will go into detail on the play later, but for now the important thing to know is that it ended with Wyatt Omsberg being sent off and a goal for the Philadelphia Union scored by Kai Wagner, recorded in the 36th minute. With the man advantage, Philly already started their assault of Bobby Shuttleworth in added time on the first half.
With a massive disadvantage, the Chicago Fire bunkered in and hoped to hold off the Philadelphia Union for the next 45 minutes. Daniel Gazdag had two chances within two minutes starting at the 50th minute, but he was unable to even reach the goalkeeper either time. After entering the game in the 63rd minute, Ilsinho found himself wide open on the far post in the 77th minute. His shot would go wide, but a Jose Martinez shot from another zip code ended up getting saved by Shuttleworth in the 79th minute. Wagner would attempt a similar shot in the 87th minute, but his ended up just heading over the bar. This onslaught would continue against the Fire, but after one last big save in the 93rd minute against an on-running Alejandro Bedoya, the game would end in the 100th minute as a 1-1 draw.
Here are three things.
There are very few times that you can point to a single event in a soccer game and say that it was the only thing that mattered, but a red card leading to a goal has to be considered a pretty good candidate for being a “single event.” As a journalist, I do my best to remain unbiased when viewing situations like this. If it was a deserving red card, I’d call it out and say that Wyatt Omsberg needs to step up. But, after watching the replay over and over, I can’t bring myself to say that I agree with the referee’s call on the play.
In the 31st minute, Alejandro Bedoya sent a solid pass over the top to get behind the defense for Cory Burke. Wyatt Omsberg was there, but struggling to get in good position to send the ball back to the safe hands of Bobby Shuttleworth. There was the shadow of a push on Omsberg from Burke and Omsberg began to stumble after throwing all his weight into the header. As he fell, his knee clipped Burke’s calf and Burke began to stumble as well. They both fell and Burke rammed into Shuttleworth. Play was stopped in order for both Burke and Shuttleworth to receive medical attention. A foul was not called. But during the wait, VAR began to look at the play and three minutes later, center ref Michael Radchuk came back to the pitch to show Wyatt Omsberg a red card. After the game, it was revealed that the foul was called for Omsberg’s knee clipping Burke as he was stumbling.
The contact from Omsberg was minimal and was the result of prior, just as minimal, contact from Burke. A team that was looking possibly their best and most confident in the season, was suddenly sent into disarray by a single foul call that wasn’t even blown as a foul on the field. There needs to be conversations had about when VAR steps in and how clear a foul needs to be in order to be called after the fact.
Unfortunately, the Chicago Fire are not completely blameless in this sequence. While the foul shouldn’t have been called and the red card halted what was gearing up to be a surprising performance, it was incompetence from the Fire that led to the goal being scored on the ensuing free-kick.
Recently, there’s been a new trend of teams leaving a player lying down behind the wall to stop any low shots. This allows the wall to technically be a bit higher when they jump. The decision to jump on a free-kick that’s right on the line of the box is a discussion for a different time, but the guy laying down behind the wall was Fabian Herbers. Generally, no one wants to get their head bashed in by a ball. But, he chose to be the one to block it. And when he sat up as the ball came towards him, he essentially said that he wasn’t actually going to do that job. The ball looks like it would’ve smacked him square between the shoulders had he not sit up, which is still very painful.
In the current zeitgeist of the sports-world, it’s wrong to demand a player to put their body on the line for their team or country. But if Herbers wanted to avoid getting hit by the ball, then he doesn’t need to be the one lying down behind the wall. They could have someone else behind the wall willing to get hit. They could just not have the wall jump. There’s so many ways that this could’ve gone, but instead it happened like this. And Herbers is the scapegoat.
St. Bobby, the Martyr
On the topic of “putting their body on the line”, we need to talk about Bobby Shuttleworth. On that same play, Shuttleworth received his first check-up from the medical staff of the game. It would not be his last. Bobby has been one of the more impressive players for the Chicago Fire this season, not just making saves, but choosing to go through a lot of pain to make those saves. Backup goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina has warmed up on the sideline about three times this season in preparation to replace an injured Shuttleworth, two of those times coming in this very game. And in each of those situations, Bobby has found a way to stay on the pitch and continue his positive performance.
I’ve spoken a lot about the negatives in this game and this season, but Bobby Shuttleworth is possibly the highest performing player out on the pitch for Chicago.