Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Chicago Fire’s Defensive Woes Continue Against Cincinnati

The Chicago Fire Home Opener Ends In a Loss to FC Cincinnati

After a promising first matchday of the MLS season, the Chicago Fire failed to build on their momentum on Saturday. They succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against FC Cincinnati in their home opener at Soldier Field. The 2023 Supporters’ Shield winners looked in command the full 90 minutes and walked away the deserving winners.

Problems at the Back as Fire Fall to Cincy in Home Opener

Frank Klopas Launches Lineup Experiment

Arguably the most interesting moment of the fixture came before kickoff, when the Fire announced their starting 11. For the first time in recent memory, manager Frank Klopas strayed from his 4-2-3-1 formation. After once again conceding late against the Philadelphia Union, Chicago switched to a three-at-the-back system against Cincinnati. Allan Arigoni, who played right back last week, moved into a right center-back role. He was joined in the back line by Mauricio Pineda and Rafael Czichos. Czichos eventually became the villain of the night when he gave the ball away cheaply in the leadup to Cincinnati’s opener.

The setup seemed to be a 3-4-2-1, with Fabian Herbers and Maren Haile-Selassie playing left and right wing back, respectively. Naturally wingers, the pair served in a hybrid attacking/defensive role throughout the match. They flanked a double pivot of Gaston Gimenez and Kellyn Acosta, the latter making his first start. The midfield was effective in its playmaking but predictably lackluster defensively. In the attack, Xherdan Shaqiri was accompanied by young starlet Brian Gutierrez in the no. 10 role, while Hugo Cuypers was the lone striker up top. For the second consecutive game, Cuypers struggled to settle into the game. He received minimal service and thus often dropped back alongside Shaqiri, leaving the danger zone free of aerial threats. Gutierrez, meanwhile, couldn’t quite find the spark he had last week and played a rather quiet game.

Cincinnati Outplay Disorganized Fire

While Chicago kept the game close, they never seemed to be on the front foot. Cincy weren’t particularly aggressive in the opening 30 minutes, but the opportunities eventually came knocking. Luciano Acosta, the team’s star player, constantly broke through the Fire defense. He took several dangerous shots, one of which rattled the post, or else played witty passes to the strike partnership of Corey Baird and Aaron Boupendza. It was Boupendza who gave his side the lead in the 39-minute, slotting a low finish past Chris Brady after intercepting a poor pass from Czichos. Brady had previously produced a couple eye-catching stops to keep the visitors at bay.

Boupendza’s goal was cancelled out by a Shaqiri penalty in the final seconds of the first half, yet Cincinnati were not to be swayed. Acosta had the Fire defense running circles around him throughout the second half, with his intricate dribbling and crisp crosses causing all sorts of problems. Every set piece was a warning sign to the Fire, and they eventually paid the price. Acosta’s low corner was met by Miles Robinson, who volleyed the ball neatly into the back of the net.

From that point on, the focus turned to defending, and Cincinnati did so magnificently. They squashed every Chicago attack with ease, even after Klopas brought in a second striker off the bench in Georgios Koutsias. Robinson, Matt Miazga, and Ian Murphy make up what many consider to be among the best defenses all of MLS. The trio lived up to that title against the Fire, who didn’t have a single notable opportunity in the second half. It never felt as if they were close to equalizing. It should come as no surprise that Cincy are yet to concede from open play in four games played this year, when including the two Concacaf Champions Cup games against Cavalier F.C.

Fire’s Post-Match Reflections

Despite the disappointment of losing their home opener, the Fire seem to be in good spirits. Klopas in particular was optimistic, expressing his belief that the team is “going in the right direction.” The manager also credited the opposition, saying that “they defended really well in crucial moments of the game.” He did, however, lament his side’s inability to defend set pieces, insisting that “we need to do a better job.” As for Czichos’ error, Klopas is understanding and professional. “We have to move on,” says the coach. “It’s one mistake, but we made mistakes as a team.”

The Fire’s opening slate of games is nothing short of horror. After the Supporters’ Shield winners, Cincinnati, MLS Cup winners Columbus Crew are next for the Men in Red. In the face of such challenges, Kellyn Acosta says the team “has to get tougher.” He takes partial responsibility for the result against Cincinnati, and emphasizes that “we’re a good team, but we have to start showing it.” Acosta, like Klopas, remains hopeful. While he was visibly disappointed by the outcome of the match, the USMNT midfielder proudly stated that “there’s something special brewing here.”

Finally, team captain Shaqiri spoke on the topic of new signings, and how the team is yet to fully synchronize. “We need to know each other better on the pitch,” he says. “If we can do that, we will win all our games.” That being said, the forward is aware of the need to address defensive problems. “We were not really on our toes,” notes the Swiss, “we cannot concede from corners.”

What Changes Do the Fire Need to Make?

It’s evident that there is consensus within the club. The team’s performance against Cincinnati wasn’t great, far from it, but the path to improvement is clear. If the Fire can develop an effective strategy to defend set pieces, they will be a much stronger side. On the other side of the pitch, the midfield needs to create more opportunities for Cuypers, who should also improve his positioning. With time, the new signings will gel with the returning players, and Chicago will be a team no one wants to face. How much time is necessary for this transformation is the major question. Can Klopas’ men regroup and stun Columbus next week? Or will there be more obstacles along the way? Only time will tell.


Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports, of a Allan Arigoni Headshot and a Miles Robinson Headshot, on March 2, 2024.


More Posts

Send Us A Message