Chicago Fire 1-1 Puebla (9-10): Four stars out of five

Jul 31, 2023; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (10) kicskthe ball against Puebla midfielder Alejandro Chumacero (3) during the first half at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2023; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (10) kicskthe ball against Puebla midfielder Alejandro Chumacero (3) during the first half at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Fire secured their spot in the round of 16 of the Leagues Cup as they lost on penalties to Puebla at SeatGeek Stadium on Monday night.

A tale of two halves, not much happened until the contest burst into life midway through the second half. Puebla jumped in front, but then they went down a man and Chicago equalized right after. That set up a fun finish, and after a lengthy shootout, Puebla came away with the victory. Since the loss didn’t come in regulation, though, Chicago got a point, which was enough for them to top the group.

What happened

The contest got off to a wild start, as Chicago hit the crossbar after just two minutes. Gastón Giménez’s shot was redirected towards goal by Fabian Herbers, and it ended up bouncing off the goalkeeper before smacking the bar, with no one able to pounce on the rebound.

The Fire kept pushing forward, dominating the early stages. An excellent cross from Xherdan Shaqiri flew right to Georgios Koutsias, but he couldn’t get his close-range header on frame.

Puebla grew into the contest, to their credit. They couldn’t create any really clear-cut chances, but they had a few crosses into the area and shots from distance.

The rest of the first half went by without much incident, although there nearly was a goal seconds after the break. Substitute Jairo Torres broke free past the backline before settling the long ball and getting a shot off. It was hit well, but the angle was too tight, so Jesús Rodríguez was able to make the save.

Puebla had their best opportunity of the night moments later. Federico Mancuello laid the ball off to Daniel Álvarez on the edge of the area, and he went for a curling effort, but his attempt flew wide of the far post. Álvarez had another look, and he kept this one on target, but he was denied by Chris Brady.

Chicago responded with a big chance of their own when Mauricio Pineda had a go. His shot looked good, but it was actually blocked by teammate Georgios Koutsias, who then couldn’t poke home the loose ball.

It seemed like the Fire finally broke the deadlock in the 66th minute. Brian Gutiérrez, who had just come on, flew through the air to power home a header, but the goal was called back due to an apparent offside in the buildup.

That proved to be a huge moment as Puebla jumped in front themselves with about 15 minutes to go. The ball fell kindly to Brayan Angulo, and he made the most of the break, unleashing a shot from distance that flew into the top corner.

Chicago kicked it up a gear following that goal. Shaqiri set up Jairo Torres with a lovely cross, but a heroic bit of defending led to the ball being cleared away.

Things went up another notch as Puebla had a player sent off right after. Carlos Baltazar tried to commit a professional foul on Shaqiri, but he instead stomped on his calf. It was a rough challenge, and the red card was probably the correct decision.

The equalizer came seconds later. Shaqiri stepped up to take the resulting free-kick, and even though his attempt hit the wall, the deflection surprised the goalkeeper and the ball ended up trickling into an empty net.

The frantic pace of the contest simply refused to stop. First Puebla came close to reclaiming the lead, but an impressive save from Brady stopped them for doing so. Then it looked like Kacper Przybyłko was going to score with a first-time effort in the area, but he was denied by a defender on the line.

Chicago came unbelievably close to winning the game in regulation, but the opposition somehow held on to send the game into penalty kicks.

After a full circuit of penalties, including attempts from the goalkeepers, Puebla won out thanks to two misses from Rafael Czichos.

What it means

This wasn’t a great performance for the Fire, but it was enough to get them into the next round. They’ll have to be much better in that game, as they’ll host Liga MX powerhouse Club América.

Puebla, meanwhile, finished the group in last place. It wasn’t the worst showing in the tournament, although they will be disappointed with how their opener went.

Notes and observations

I hate how soccer games in America simply refuse to start on time.

The idea behind the Leagues Cup is cool, but something about the presentation seems so fake. It comes across more like an event than a sporting competition. I mean it is a cash-grab after all, but I still wish more of the focus was on the soccer being played on the field than the show off of it.

There was a countdown for the start of the game, and then the referee had everyone wait a few more seconds because of TV, which was funny.

Puebla had a superb crowd for the contest, though. The Puebla supporters didn’t really sit in a certain area, but they were spread out throughout the stadium, and they were really loud at points.

There was a missed call that was so bad it was funny midway through the first half. A Fire player was blatantly brought down on the counter, and his jersey was even grabbed a bit, and yet the referee chose not to show a yellow card.

This game was quite boring for several stretches.

Ousmane Doumbia had a rough night on the ball. He couldn’t settle it properly most of the time, and he didn’t really do anything in possession. His focus is on the defensive side of the ball, of course, but it was still concerning to see.

Xherdan Shaqiri has scored multiple goals at the World Cup, he’s won the UEFA Champions League, and yet scoring in this game still meant so much to him.

Puebla were woeful to start, but they became a real threat once they got into the game. Not much was expected from them after they got blown out by Minnesota United, but they put up a real fight here.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to see a meaningless penalty kick shootout in a competitive game ever again.

Man of the match – Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri wanted this.

Given the captain’s armband for the contest, there was a certain pep to Shaqiri’s step. He made sure to get on the ball as often as possible, and then he’d do something with it, either driving forward or whipping it into the area.

That all came to fruition for Chicago’s only goal of the game. Shaqiri won the free-kick after dribbling by a defender and being brought down by another. Then he ripped a free-kick attempt towards frame, and it ended up finding the back of the net, even if it was due to a massive deflection. He still celebrated massively, sprinting toward the crowd and pumping his arms and fists.

It was a wonderful moment, and Chicago will hope it really kicks the Designated Player into top gear.