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Attacking Persistence Pays Off for Chicago Fire Against Montreal

The Chicago Fire Attack Helps Chicago Win Thriller Against CF Montreal

The Chicago Fire are no strangers to late drama. Games involving the team regularly end in edge-of-your-seat moments, and last-second goals are common. Except, in the vast majority of cases, it’s Chicago who emerges heartbroken and empty-handed. For once, that is not the case. In what was a testament to the team’s resilience and commitment, the Fire came from 3-1 down Saturday to defeat high-flying CF Montreal 4-3 at Soldier Field. The win is Chicago’s first of 2024, and it could serve as a turning point for Frank Klopas and his players.

Down But Never Out: Attacking Onslaught Leads Fire to Victory

Frank Klopas Shows Faith in Squad

Last week, the Fire fell to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Columbus Crew, after conceding deep into stoppage time (again). The result was a gut punch to Chicago, who defended well until the very last seconds. Moreover, Klopas had brought on a fifth defender off the bench, with the score level, in an attempt to salvage a draw. This proved to be costly, as the Fire were on the back foot the rest of the way and were eventually caught out by the Crew.

This week was different, however. In appreciation of his side’s solid showing in Columbus, Klopas fielded an identical starting 11 on Saturday. Any changes, therefore, would have to come in his decision-making during the match itself. And indeed they did. When the Fire opened the match in tragic fashion, conceding two penalties and going down 2-0 inside 12 minutes, the manager had some thinking to do. At halftime, with the score now at 2-1 to the visitors, Klopas decided to take off Tobias Salquist. Salquist had cheaply given away the second CFM penalty, and was on a yellow card. He was replaced by the recently recovered Carlos Teran, who put in a solid shift at center-back. The Colombian made several crucial tackles to keep the visitors at bay.

The second half began in a positive light for the Fire. They attacked the Montreal goal intensely and unwaveringly. A strong statement of intent came from the Chicago coaching staff when Georgios Koutsias came on for captain, Xherdan Shaqiri, in the 69th minute. The Greek’s addition saw the team shift to a two-striker formation, as they chased an equalizer. Montreal would score against the run of play just a minute after Koutsias’ introduction, but Klopas had one more idea up his sleeve.

No Backing Down

With 76 minutes on the clock and Chicago trailing by two, the manager made a highly unconventional substitution. Striker, Tom Barlow, came on in place of left-back Chase Gasper, making it three no. 9s on the pitch at the same time for the Fire. It was both a baffling and a brilliant decision from Klopas. While Barlow wouldn’t score, the American’s presence gave Hugo Cuypers the freedom he so desperately needed.

When Montreal were reduced to ten men in the 82nd minute, it all came together for the Fire. Brian Gutiérrez converted the ensuing penalty and the Fire were right back in the game. Koutsias moved to the flank and did excellent, posing a constant threat to goalkeeper, Jonathan Sirois. Barlow and Cuypers played in a strike partnership, the latter now bearing less responsibility and being able to drop back. Cuypers would ultimately barrel home the equalizer for his side, scoring a long-awaited first goal in red.

The genius of’ the team’s improvised game plan was seen in the subtlest of ways. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta would ultimately score the winner from inside his own half. His strike, heavily affected by the strong Chicago wind, just clipped the fingertips of Sirois before going in. It’s easy to pin the blame for the goal on Sirois’ mistimed run towards the ball. In all likelihood, though, it was caused by the goalkeeper’s fear of what might happen if he didn’t come off his line. Koutsias and Barlow were in the box, ready to pounce on a stray ball. Cuypers and Maren Haile-Selassie trailed just behind them. As a result, Sirois had no choice but to risk it. The switch to an overwhelmingly attacking formation forced a Montreal mistake and won the game for the Fire.

Tables Have Turned for the Fire

There is so much to be proud of for the Fire after this match, and the manager knows it. “The guys put a lot in to this game,” says Klopas, lauding his side’s “tremendous belief.” On a personal level, the coaching staff learned from their mistakes and put on a tactical masterclass. “[Koutsias] does really well joining in as a second forward,” notes Klopas in regards to his substitutions. “Once we brought Tom [Barlow] in and they got the red card,” he says, “I think it was a really good move from us to play four across the middle.” The team’s epic win (Klopas’ milestone 50th as Fire head coach) could serve as a catalyst for a good run of form, a fact not lost on the man in charge. This game will be “hard to forget” and it can “change the season around for us,” according to Klopas.

The blissful irony of the Fire winning a game late is something that Cuypers is well aware of. He’s only been in Chicago for four matches, but the Belgian is already fed up with last-gasp defeats. He laments “conceding two goals in the first three games in additional time,” and says that Saturday’s match was “a little bit of luck in our favor.” As for his first goal for Chicago, Cuypers says there is no feeling of relief. “Week in, week out, I just try to do my job. I score as many as I can to try and help the team,” states the striker simply.

Persistent Attacking Is Key

The man of the hour, Kellyn Acosta, is proud of the attacking prowess that was on display at Soldier Field. “We were creating chaos in the box,” explains Acosta, “always trying to be on the front foot.” He says that when the nine-minute second stoppage time period was announced, the team’s mentality was to “keep going, because in this league, we’ve seen that a lot of goals can happen past the 90th minute.”

Living proof of this trend is the USMNT midfielder’s wonder-strike in the final seconds. Acosta chalks up his winner to “some Saint Patrick’s Day luck,” explaining that he was really “trying to send a ball to the back post.” In short, the Windy City lived up to its name and did its part for the team. Acosta didn’t quite manage to find the back post. Instead, his looping ball worked its way in between the posts, and earned the Men in Red a much-needed first win.

The victory has been a long time coming, but the Fire will hope results like this one aren’t a rare occurrence henceforth. If they play their cards right, the team will be winning plenty of games in the coming weeks. And maybe, just maybe… they can do it with a little less drama.


Note: Both teams will be on the road for the remaining games in March this month. The Fire will play the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on March 23 at 2:00 PM ET and then play Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 31 at 3:30 PM ET. This is while CF Montreal will travel to face D.C. United at Audi Field on March 31 at 7:30 PM ET. All games will be shown live on Apple TV.


Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports, of a Chicago Fire FC Headshot, on March 16, 2024.


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