BRIDGEVIEW, ILL. – For the purposes of Saturday night’s game, the Chicago Fire were supposed be the Jedis, and the visiting Minnesota United? The dark side, of course. After all, it was Star Wars night, and Chicago desperately needed that metaphor to play out like in the George Lucas movies in order to gain three points to elevate their lowly selves in the Eastern Conference standings.
In the end, it was Minnesota (7-14-4) who pulled off a serious upset in defeating the likely playoff-bound Fire (12-9-5). The United (who started out the night in last-place in the Western Conference) had not won an away game this season before Saturday night, and their 2-1 triumph over Chicago certainly served to deplete morale in the Fire locker room even further. The Fire have fallen into a serious slump as of late, losing five straight games, and seven of their last eight.
The United had a sizable showing of support from their loyal fanbase in attendance. After all, it was only just over a 400 mile drive to Toyota Park for most of them.
— Peter Elliott (@PelliottSports) August 27, 2017
To kick off the game, the Fire had rampant scoring opportunities early on in the first half, with near goals coming in the 11th, 12th, 18th, 21st, and 26th minutes, just to name a few.
In the 16th minute, Fire striker Nemanja Nikolić blasted a blistering shot well over the goalpost, and directly onto the videoboard on the south side of the stadium. That shot drew accurate comparisons to many of the blasts made by Luke Skywalker. Although, Skywalker had it easy: He only had to pull a trigger.
Although he is Chicago’s team leader in goals scored with 16, Nikolić has gone scoreless in his last eight games, and still is without a goal to call his own in the month of August.
Loons striker Abu Danladi netted his fourth goal of the season and first goal of the night in the 36th minute. Poor transition defense by the Fire led to midfielder Kevin Molino making an on-the-run cross intended for Danladi. Although it was intercepted by a sliding Johan Kappelhof, it was quickly rebounded by by Finlay, who fed an in-position Danladi, who was wide-open in front of the net for an easy tap-in, with goalkeeper Matt Lampson focused on stopping Finlay.
— Fútbol MLS (@futbolMLS) August 27, 2017
“If you give the other team breakaways and tap-ins, you’re going to concede goals,” Fire team captain Dax McCarty said, speaking to reporters following the game. “On the other end if it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games.”
Danladi netted another goal in stoppage time of the first half, when he skillfully used his left foot to hammer in a Jerome Thiesson cross. 2-0 United, and that was all they needed.
— Fútbol MLS (@futbolMLS) August 27, 2017
The Fire did respond in the 77th minute, when Bastian Schweinsteiger distributed his sixth assist of the season, delivering an excellent lead ground pass to a streaking David Accam. Accam quickly corralled the ball and expertly fired into the bottom right corner of the net past goalie Bobby Shuttleworth, energizing the home crowd and Chicago Fire players alike.
— Mesfouf & Koshary (@MesfoufKoshary) August 27, 2017
How was the team feeling after scoring that late goal?
“Felt like we could get back in the game, remarked McCarty. “Had chances to equalize, and we didn’t do it.”
Four minutes of stoppage time were added in second half, and although the Fire predominantly controlled the possession in those last minutes, an equalizer was not scored.
“No one said it’s going to be easy,” declared Fire coach Veljko Paunovic in his postgame press conference. “This is exactly what we were talking about when… we were all celebrating the great season so far and the team. We have to stick together.”
The Fire are assuredly out of the race for the Supporters’ Shield, but still well within the confines of playoff inclusion. However, with just eight games left in the regular season, Chicago doesn’t have a large margin of error, as there are multiple teams within striking distance of the Fire in the Eastern Conference.
Referees: Kevin Stott (Head), Jeffrey Greeson (AR1), Kyle Longville (AR2), Juan Guzman (4th), Dave Gantar (Video)
Notes: 1. While the Chicago-Minnesota game was ongoing, the Columbus Crew moved past the Fire in the Eastern Conference standings to third place with their 2-1 win over FC Dallas. 2. The Chicago Fire are now 0-8-2 when allowing the first goal, and 0-7-1 when trailing at half. Both are clear data points that show in part how Chicago has struggled mightily when they don’t capitalize on early opportunities and set the tone.
Chicago Fire: Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact – Stade Saputo (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) – Saturday, September 2nd @ 6:00 P.M. CT (CSN Chicago, TSN 690, TVA Sports)
Minnesota United: Minnesota United vs. Philadelphia Union – TCF Bank Stadium (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) – Saturday, September 9, 2017 @ 7:00 PM C.T. (Fox9+, 1500 ESPN, The Comcast Network)