And just like that, the Fire were back to their old ways.
It had been a while since they had fallen apart. They were recently knocked out of the Leagues Cup at home against Club América, but Chicago put up a good fight in that game, and barely lost. They were only beaten in one of their five previous MLS matches, a tough away day against Orlando City.
You had to go all the way back to June 10th to find the last time the Fire really blew it, when they conceded a stoppage-time goal from midfield to lose at home to the Columbus Crew.
Then, in the blink of an eye, they had done it again.
After opening the scoring at the start of the second half, Chicago conceded three goals in the span of 18 minutes. One from a corner, one from a cross, and another via the penalty spot. It all happened so quickly, and that short span was enough to damn the team to a loss at home.
There was plenty of time to mount a comeback, but the Fire never got going again. They had lost their heads, and they never put the opposition under any sort of threat. Before anyone knew it the night was over, and the team had dropped some potentially important points at Soldier Field.
The timing of this could not have been much worse.
The Leagues Cup helped set a good cut off point in terms of the final stretch of the campaign.
After that midseason tournament, Chicago had 11 games to go. They were in a decent spot, holding on to one of the last few postseason places thanks to their aforementioned good run of form. The picture isn’t as pretty now, as they’ve got 10 games left, with only two points separating them and the playoff line.
They’ve been in worse situations, of course, but there is a concern when it comes to the rest of the year. The Fire only has four home games left, and two of those are against tough opponents, a New England Revolution side who are in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, and an Inter Miami team that literally has the greatest soccer player of all time. Even a home meeting with Charlotte FC could prove to be tricky. (Fortunately for them the other contest is a midweek match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. If you don’t win that then don’t even worry about the playoffs.)
Four out of their next five contests are on the road. Even though Chicago has been better on their travels this season, they’ve still been historically awful in recent memory. If they want to pick up any points, then they’ll have to be at their best.
All things considered, we’re at the point of the campaign where teams will either step up, or step aside.
If the Fire plays like they did against Orlando, though, then they’ll certainly be dumped off to the side.
Let’s fast-forward to the second half when everything went wrong. Chicago had just scored through Mauricio Pineda, but Orlando kept the ball afterward, which ultimately led to a corner. It was from that set-piece where the opposition scored, and it was way too easy. Wilder Cartagena was legitimately left unmarked just a few yards out from goal, and he headed home as a result.
How does that happen? How is a player left on his own in such a dangerous area? Either someone lost track of their man, or no one ever had him in the first place. It was defensive work reminiscent of the Fire from earlier this season, especially when you consider the timing. If they could’ve held on for a few minutes, then maybe they could’ve solidified themselves a bit more.
Minutes later, and the Fire were picking the ball out of their own net again. A cross towards the far post was redirected across goal, and the second ball was headed over the line by Iván Angulo. The main reason this goal happens is because the backline gets moved around too much, and they fail to fix themselves in time.
Have no fear, midfielder Gastón Giménez has sprinted back to help the defense, and he’s parked himself in the box to deal with the cross. To his credit, this was good to see since he’s often been called lazy in the past. What comes next isn’t ideal.
It almost looks like Giménez thinks his job is done, as he just stands there. Menacingly. He feels like he’ll be able to head the ball away easily, and he doesn’t see the opponent behind him, who simply leaps over him to keep the ball in the area. That’s what sets up the final header.
There’s a bit more time before the third and final goal. While the other two were more of a team effort to concede, this one falls on just one man, Miguel Navarro. Orlando fullback Dagur Thórhallsson is on the ball, cutting inside right on the edge of the area. He’s not a threat at all, as he has Navarro on his side, another Fire player ahead of him, and no teammates to pass to.
Navarro then decides to go for a tackle for some reason. He misses the ball, fouling the Orlando man in the process and leaving the referee with no other choice but to point to the spot.
The whole situation was nonsensical, as the player was practically on the line of the box. He could have just been guided into a congested area where another Chicago defender takes care of business. Instead, Navarro shot himself in the foot like he’s done in the past, and Orlando made it 3-1 thanks to that error.
Now, the Fire still had plenty of time to mount a comeback of their own. There were over 20 minutes left, and they were in front of a solid home crowd. Instead, they lost their heads. They kept fouling the opposition and getting into scuffles, and when they had the ball, they resorted to aimless crosses and panicked passes.
They never even came close to scoring one goal, let alone two. The contest went by with a whimper. It was a real shame, as Chicago had been doing so much better as of late. They relapsed, unfortunately.
This isn’t the end of the world, of course.
Losing at home is never ideal, but Orlando is a dangerous side on their day, and sometimes showings like this just happen. The Fire were also without their head coach, to be fair, with Frank Klopas forced off the sideline due to Covid-19. Maybe things are different if he’s there. He’s magic after all.
The important thing is that this doesn’t happen again. Chicago has to learn from that performance, and then they have to put it past them. They cannot make the same mistakes again.
If they do, then they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.