Vancouver Whitecaps Stay Hot While Chicago Fire Cool
By Daniel Casey
After losing to San Jose Earthquakes at home last week, the Chicago Fire was looking to bounce back and return to the form it had in June where they went 5-1-0 overall competitions. Unfortunately, the Fire had to travel to Vancouver to face a team that was on its own five game unbeaten run and is the only remaining team in MLS that is unbeaten at home. Still many Fire supporters believed that a point wasn’t out of the question.
Even though Chicago had seemed to have turned its fortunes around over the last six weeks, there are still glaring weaknesses. The Fire hasn’t kept a cleansheet since March 16th, the team is dreadful at defending and taking corners, and the top earners in the club are the least productive members. Vancouver was able to successfully exploit all these weaknesses on Sunday.
The opening minutes of the match appeared to show a Chicago Fire that was confident and patient; they connected passes and let their attack build-up. The Fire had a clear advantage possession-wise but failed to be clinical with its chances. New fullback Shaun Francis, acquired from third division USL’s Charlotte Eagles last week, made his MLS debut for the Fire at leftback as regular starter Gonzalo Segares was suspended for yellow card accumulation. Of the Chicago defenders, Francis was to be the only one that kept his performance up throughout the full 90 minutes.
The match saw the top scorers in the league, Chicago’s Mike Magee and Vancouver’s Camilo, square off. And where it was Mike Magee who owned the accolades for all of June, it appears as though July will belong to Camilo. The Brazilian scored a brace against the Fire to put him at the top of MLS goal scorers while Magee was only able to get one shot on goal. Chicago’s defense was solid for the first 45 minutes but coming out after halftime quickly revealed it had lost any cohesion. Vancouver was able to shred the Fire backline making nearly every defender look childish and amateur.
One reason for the gross drop of in quality in the second half may be the tired legs of Jalil Anibaba, Baky Soumare, and Austin Berry. All three of these defenders seemed to have lost all their hustle, intensity, and awareness by the 50th minute. The first goal for the Whitecaps came on a counterattack following a poorly taken Chicago corner kick. Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton sent a long ball to Camilo who was able to easily dribble passed forward Chris Rolfe and Francis who were the only Fire players in any position to challenge. Camilo’s second goal came from a one-on-one with Chicago’s ‘keeper Paolo Tornaghi, who was able to stop the Brazilian’s first attempt but then was blinded by his own late arriving defenders who simply stood unchallenging as Camilo took his shot.
The nail in the coffin came in the 83rd minute when rookie Kekutah Manneh deftly maneuvered around Patrick Nyarko and Anibaba to send a shot into the back of the next. Although Nyarko was able to get one goal back it was no more than a consolation. With the loss, Chicago sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference being eight points behind the Houston Dynamo, currently holding the last playoff spot in the conference. It’s still possible for Chicago to make a playoff run as this weekend they face lowly DC United. Yet, the Fire must win against DC if they have any hope of traveling to BBVA Compass Stadium to face Houston in two weeks, another team that rarely if ever loses at home.
If Chicago doesn’t start finding goals aside from Mike Magee, if they do not add defensive depth soon, and if it can’t cease conceding the first goal, then the team will soon drop out of any MLS playoff consideration. Fortunately, the team still has good US Open Cup prospects but how long will that satisfy the fans or front office?