Reality Bites Fire the Hard Way
The good feelings from the Chicago Fire’s three-game unbeaten streak faded quickly in the aftermath of their 3:1 defeat to Toronto FC on Friday at BMO Field. The home side had displayed rather indifferent form at BMO so far this season, so they definitely came out ready to play on Friday. The Fire won the possession battle 55% to 45%, but it felt as though they spent much of the contest in chase mode. The Fire now have eleven points from their seven matches and find themselves entrenched in a crowded Eastern Conference table.
The Fire were also on the wrong side of some poor refereeing from veteran arbiter Silviu Petrescu, who missed a shove by Jozy Altidore on goalkeeper Jorge Bava in the run-up to Toronto’s first goal. Then, in the second half, a Justin Morrow handball was adjudged to have occurred outside the penalty area, but the replay showed that Morrow was entirely inside the box when he handled the ball. In MLS, the margins between many teams are very thin. With points on the road so hard to come by, such fundamental errors can be game-changers.
Coach Veljko Paunovic made no changes to the starting lineup that demolished New England in their previous match. After a strong outing in that match, winger Luis Solignac kept his place, and this left David Accam on the bench.
The Fire nearly turned the match on its head in the opening minutes. Juninho swung a free kick in from the left flank, where Bastian Schweinsteiger concluded his looping run into the area with a glancing header towards goal. Nemanja Nikolic scooted in to tap the ball home, but was offside. Nikolic’s timing was just a bit off, which was unfortunate, because Toronto’s defenders were definitely caught flat-footed.
After a period of back and forth, Toronto settled in and began to make incursions into Fire territory. Bava did well to steer an attempt from Sebastian Giovinco wide of his right-hand post in the 18th minute.
Nine minutes later, the pressure in front of the Fire goal intensified. Toronto pushed the ball right through the middle of the Fire defense, thanks to Dax McCarty stationed wide left and Juninho trailing the play. As Bava came out to punch a cross in from the right wing, Altidore, seeing that he could not win the ball, stuck his hand out and gave Bava a gratuitous shove in the midsection. The contact was slight enough for Petrescu not to notice, but significant enough to throw Bava off balance. His punch skittered weakly into the penalty area, where Solignac tried to head the ball clear. He sent it back weakly, and Toronto circulated it back to Giovinco at the top of the box. Bava was cheating towards a far-post shot, but Giovinco cleverly went near post for a 1:0 lead. Credit to Toronto for keeping up the pressure, but the goal was clearly tainted by Altidore’s ignored foul.
Things went from bad to worse for the Fire when Toronto doubled the lead in the 32nd minute. Morrow crossed the ball in from the left flank for Eriq Zavaleta to head home at the far post. He simply outjumped everyone in the vicinity and found the back of the net.
The Fire’s midfield failed to keep things compact and organized, Left-sided winger Raheem Edwards was given all kinds of time and space by Michael Harrington, which served to open the space in the middle of the field. Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez thus had plenty of room to operate, giving McCarty and Juninho all they could handle to try and contain them.
With the score still 2:0 midway through the second half, Paunovic replaced Michael de Leeuw and Nemanja Nikolic with Accam and Daniel Johnson. Both Accam and Johnson were very active, but Fire scoring chances remained scant.
A game-changing decision left the Fire thoroughly disappointed with Petrescu in the 71st minute. As the Fire worked the ball along the right flank, Solignac looked to send a cross into the middle. Morrow jumped and turned his back to try to block the cross, but turned into the path of the ball instead and handled it. Petrescu saw the handball, but incredibly gave a free kick outside the area. Morrow was definitely inside the penalty area and the Fire missed out on an opportunity to get back into the contest. This was a situation that absolutely begged for the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee.
Toronto put the result beyond any doubt in the 82nd minute when Giovinco delivered a free kick of unparalleled brilliance. He fired over the Fire’s defensive wall and deposited the ball into the uppermost reaches of the right-hand corner of Bava’s goal. An unstoppable shot, and a perfect example of why Designated Players get paid the big bucks.
The Fire fought until the end, however. In the 88th minute, Accam latched onto a loose ball in the middle of the field and raced right up the middle. He laid off a pass for Solignac, supporting on the right, and the winger immediately returned an unselfish square pass for Accam. Wasting no touches, Accam fired past the stationary Alexander Bono for his second goal of the season.
Finding points on the road is the hardest task every MLS team face. The Fire put in a good shift against Toronto: 55% possession and 82% completion rate on their passes. All of that possession, however, translated into just one shot on target, the late goal from Accam. The Fire were not far away in this one, so the lessons learned will provide a good direction forward when they travel to meet the Red Bulls and the Galaxy.
Gio near miss…
Dax takes a crack…
Giovinco even makes substitutions exciting…
Greg Vanney shakes hands with Veljko Paunovic (MLS highlight clip, left), Greg Vanney shakes hands with Veljko Paunovic and then makes insulting gesture (actual game clip, right).