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Poor Decision-Making Costs Klopas’ Chicago Fire in Columbus

Chicago Fire FC Forward Fabian Hebers Scores in a 2-1 Loss to the Columbus Crew

It’s back-to-back defeats for the Chicago Fire. They defended brilliantly on Saturday night and created no shortage of chances on the other end. However, it’s the MLS Cup champions, the Columbus Crew, who come out the winners at Field, scoring a stoppage time winner en route to a 2-1 victory. For the Fire, this marks the second time in three games this season where they’ve conceded in stoppage time.

Questions To Be Asked As Fire Collapse Once Again

Frank Klopas Returns to the 4-2-3-1

It’s no secret that Fire manager, Frank Klopas, prefers the 4-2-3-1 formation. He used it for most of last season, as well as in this year’s season opener against Philadelphia. Yet, last week at home against Cincinnati, Chicago lined up in an unorthodox 3-4-2-1. It proved to be a failure, as the hosts slumped to an uninspiring 2-1 defeat. In his post-match press conference, Klopas hinted that he’d stick to the wingback system. According to him, the result against Cincinnati was the product of individual mistakes rather than of issues with the game-plan. For whatever reason, the Fire decided to end the experiment there. They returned to their customary four-at-the-back formation for the match against Columbus.

Solid Defending But Problems Persist

Klopas opted for Rafael Czichos and debutant Tobias Salquist as the center-back pairing. Czichos recovered well from last week’s disaster (when he gave the ball away for Cincinnati’s opener), putting in a decent defensive shift. The German did, however, fail to put away a shot from point-blank range in the dying moments. A goal there would have secured a draw for Chicago. As for Salquist, the former Silkeborg man impressed in his first appearance. He was confident in his clearances and in the air, making him likely to get a run of games as a starter.

Flanking the center-backs were Chase Gasper on the left and Allan Arigoni on the right. Starting Gasper was a leap of faith from Klopas, but the American looked calm and assured throughout the match. Arigoni, on the other hand, picked up an early yellow card and was forced to play passive defense the rest of the way. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Chris Brady was at the very top of his game. The youngster produced a number of staggering stops, only conceding from an unstoppable strike by Crew starlet Jacen Russell-Rowe, and later from a fortunate tap-in by Mohamed Farsi deep into stoppage time.

The blame for that second goal rests on everyone but Brady, who initially made a save that deflected to Farsi. The referees, for starters, decided on adding 12 minutes, a baffling decision given the fast-paced nature of the game. Columbus had a goal ruled out for offside in the eighth of those minutes before scoring two minutes later. Brady’s back line, seemingly strengthened by Klopas’ introduction of Jonathan Dean, let him down by allowing Farsi to sneak into the danger area untouched and unmarked. Late goals single-handedly eliminated the Fire from playoff contention last year, and they remain the team’s kryptonite in 2024.

Frank Klopas Bears Some Blame

Klopas, to his credit, has taken on a job very few want. The Fire have been in a persistent state of disarray, but the club legend remains faithful to his beloved team. He’s made his mistakes, including the switch to 3-4-2-1 last week, but corrected them. Indeed, the team he’s built has a fair bit of potential.

That being said, Klopas’ substitutions against Columbus directly contributed to the disappointing outcome. It became very apparent that Chicago had no interest in winning the match when Gaston Gimenez replaced Xherdan Shaqiri. Shaqiri had just begun to create chances after a slow start to the game and yet, he was substituted for a defensive-minded player. Hugo Cuypers, the record signing who had his best game yet against Columbus, gave way for Tom Barlow as well. Cuypers looked extremely close to breaking his scoring drought, having rattled the post in the second half. Taking him off was confusing enough as it is, but to do so for a minute-starved Barlow is even more baffling. The former Red Bulls man played the final seven minutes plus stoppage time and couldn’t do much.

Finally, substituting Maren Haile-Selassie, who assisted Fabian Herbers for the Fire’s goal, meant the visitors had nothing left to do but defend. Retreating to their own half wasn’t a bad decision per se, but Haile-Selassie had been the driving force behind every counter-attack. This way, there was no one left to feed the in-form Herbers and Barlow up top. What’s more, adding a fifth defender in Dean only created further confusion at the back. Not one of the five was adequately defending the wings, allowing Columbus to score once from an offside position, then once more for the win.

As Always, A Flicker of Promise

The Fire can and will be better. They’ve had a very difficult early schedule, but it becomes less frightening as soon as next week, when CF Montreal pays a visit to Soldier Field. That match will present an excellent opportunity for Klopas and the Men In Red to redeem themselves and get their first win of 2024. The manager knows his flaws and recognizes his mistakes. As such, Fire fans have good reason to believe that his decision-making will be better from now on. If this holds true, results should finally come for a side that has struggled so much. It’s back to the drawing board for now.


Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports, of a Chicago Fire FC Headshot and a Columbus Crew Headshot, on March 9, 2024.


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