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The Fire’s 4-1 loss to Atlanta United on Saturday left fans equal parts disgusted and confused. After such a positive start to the season, how have the wheels fallen off this quickly?
Here are six thoughts on the match, and where Chicago goes from here.
Captain Czichos is key
First, there should be absolutely no doubt that Rafael Czichos is the Fire’s most important player. His absence due to a red card suspension was glaring, with Carlos Terán filling in on Saturday and doing his best Francisco Calvo impression, making spectacular runs forward, but getting lost and confused in the defensive third. The back line was disjointed and poor, and Gabriel Slonina wasn’t much better — he could have done better on at least two of Atlanta’s four goals. For the Fire to succeed, the centerback pairing must be Czichos and Wyatt Omsberg going forward, meaning Czichos needs to do his best to avoid silly yellow cards. If Czichos can’t go, Jonathan Bornstein should start alongside Omsberg in the left-sided centerback position.
Chicago needs more from Shaqiri
Xherdan Shaqiri’s quality has been on display in brief flashes this season, but he has not lived up to expectations. On Saturday his assist to Chinonso Offor was beautiful, but he was otherwise absent from the game: 0/10 crosses completed, 0/3 shots on target, 2/7 ground duels won. Shaqiri must find a way to impose his will on these games. As the team’s highest paid player, Shaqiri should be held to a higher standard than his teammates. Through 10 games, he hasn’t been good enough.
Jairo Torres was a lock to play, until he wasn’t. On Tuesday Ezra Hendrickson said the Fire’s new Mexican Young Designated Player would take the field against Atlanta, but after an injury flared up, he had to miss the match, and now it’s anyone’s guess when he’ll play next.
“I don’t have any updates as far as when Jairo will be back,” Hendrickson said after the match. “Hopefully sooner rather than later but I can’t give you a definite for that right now.”
You have to figure the Fire are doing the right thing by playing it safe with Torres, but it’s still disappointing.
Stani and Fabi
Torres should help things when he does come in, and until then, Fabian Herbers should hold things down on the right wing. Stanislav Ivanov was again a non-factor on Saturday. His two shots were off target, and there were two other occasions where he failed to pull the trigger when he should have, held the ball too long, and turned it over. Herbers was much better in his 27 minutes than Ivanov was in his 63: one key pass, 2/3 successful dribbles, 3/4 ground duels won, and 7/9 accurate passes.
There weren’t many, but here are a couple: Chris Mueller made his Fire debut, and while he wasn’t spectacular, his speed and ability to stretch the defense was on display, for sure. Despite not scoring, the Fire looked better in the second half than they did in the first, and Mueller was a part of that. Also, congrats to Victor Bezerra, who made his MLS debut, coming on late in the match. His nine minutes weren’t really enough to impact the game, but Bezerra will surely be a player to watch for the Fire going forward. Bezerra’s best quality is his wide variety of finishing, something the Fire could certainly use.
Next Up: Not the Same Old Cincy
The Fire host FC Cincinnati at Soldier Field on Saturday. While playing FCC is normally a cure for a losing streak, Cincy’s now up to fifth place in the East after three straight wins, and should not be taken lightly. Chicago will have Czichos back from suspension. If Torres, Kacper Przybylko and Gastón Giménez are all healthy, and Mueller starts opposite Torres, it could be the first time we see the Fire’s optimal XI play together this season. It’s still early in the season, and even a short winning streak will see the Fire jump back into the playoff picture. But with three on the road coming up after this, including games against the second-place New York Red Bulls and defending champion New York City FC, taking all three points against Cincinnati feels vital.
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