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I started to write this on Monday, then closed my laptop when the news broke about the mass murder at the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade. Writing about soccer suddenly felt pointless. Sadly, this has happened many, many times before, and will continue to happen in the United States until our political leaders actually do something about it.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on the current state of the Chicago Fire. As famed Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi once said, “Football is the most important of the least important things in life.” I’m always reminded of that quote on days like these.
Another Shaqiri injury
In his short time with the Fire, Xherdan Shaqiri’s had a calf injury, then a hamstring, then an illness, and now a hip. He’s missed four full games, and minutes in several others. In the 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, the Fire’s highest paid and most famous player came out around the 60th minute.
After the match, Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson gave a version of the standard Shaq injury quote:
“He’s fine. He just had a little hip injury but I don’t think anything major. Still has to be seen, but I don’t think anything major. We just wanted to make sure that it didn’t get worse, whatever it is, that was bothering his hip.”
Why does this keep happening? Is there any other player on the Fire who comes out of games with the slightest bit of discomfort? I’m sure these decisions are well thought out, and obviously Ezra and the club’s medical staff know a lot more than I do about the situation. But from the outside, it’s frustrating to watch. It definitely feels like the club’s using kid gloves in an effort to prevent any major injuries from cropping up before the World Cup in Qatar this November.
If Shaqiri is as important to the Fire as he says he is, he needs to find a way to stay on the pitch for his club team.
Guti and Durán
The good news for the Fire is that Brian Gutierrez is more than capable of filling in for Shaqiri at the No. 10. Against San Jose, Gutierrez again proved he deserves to be starting, if not in central midfield then out wide. His first career goal came too late in the match to change the outcome, but it was pretty nonetheless. Hendrickson should find a way to get Gutierrez in the starting XI against Columbus on Saturday.
The same goes for Jhon Durán, who had a nice assist on Gutierrez’s late goal. Durán is still very raw, but he’s surely a better bet to score than Kacper Przybylko at this point. We saw this last year with Robert Berić–yanking an ice cold striker from the XI can further ruin his confidence, but it doesn’t matter at this point. Either run Durán out at the No. 9, or find a new shape that better plays to the personnel. In this current setup, Przybylko flat out can’t score.
“What was missing is just our finishing,” Hendrickson said after the San Jose loss. “We created good chances, especially in the first half to put the game out of reach, and we did not.”
Ezra sees it. It’s just a matter of making the change.
What’s going on here?
I was reasonably sure the Fire could at least get a draw in Houston. Nope. I thought there was no way they’d beat the Philadelphia Union. The Fire won. Then I thought, surely, they’d be able to at least get a point on the road in San Jose. Nope. Luckily, I have a few days to come up with a prediction for the Crew match, but it might be smart money to bet against me at this point.
That VAR decision
When Rafael Czichos went down in the box, my first thought was it was a Bundesliga veteran taking a dive, trying to get something going for his team. But after the VAR review, it seemed fairly obvious to everyone–except referee Victor Rivas, apparently–that it was a penalty. Alas, it wasn’t.
Yes, it felt like the Fire got burned again by an unfair refereeing decision. But if the Fire actually finish two or three of those high xG chances in the first half, the bad call wouldn’t have mattered. And immediately after the penalty wasn’t given, the Fire switched off, and San Jose scored quickly.
Good teams might get more calls than the Fire, but good teams finish their chances, and good teams don’t switch off mentally when things don’t go their way. Do things the right way, and you don’t leave matches to chance. Good teams make their own luck.
The Fire play three in a row, and four of their next five at Soldier Field. It’s now or never.
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