On Fire: Chicago's woes continue in worst-ever start

Carlos de los Cobos

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The Chicago Fire’s worst-ever start continued on Saturday night, when the team fell 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
 
Chicago weren’t bad Saturday, looking decent in the back and holding the ball for 57 percent of the game. But all the possession in the world wouldn’t have helped in the 75th minute, when Union forward Carlos Ruiz won the game with a 40-yard wonder goal. The strike — which will presumably be a Goal of the Year candidate — handed the Fire the loss, keeping them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a dismal eight points through their first 10 matches.  

“In the first half we were able to control the game a little bit but then they came on strong at the end,” Fire winger Dominic Oduro told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I think the second half was more like a push and pull, but at the end of the day, we lost the game.”

Things don’t get any easier for the Fire in the short term. They’ll travel cross country to San Jose for a US Open Cup play-in match on Tuesday before flying back home to take on the Earthquakes for the second time in five days on Saturday in league play.

This week’s “On Fire” looks back on the Philadelphia loss and glances ahead to Chicago’s busy week, focusing on three key observations.  

1) Surprising substitutions

The Fire might have had a more successful late push against the Union had Carlos de los Cobos not used all three of his subs by the 61st minute.

Chicago's head coach brought forward Orr Barouch on for Diego Cháves at halftime then made a double-substitution in the 61st, bringing defensive midfielder Logan Pause on for the more offensive-minded Corben Bone and putting center mid Gastón Puerari in for Baggio Husidic.  

De los Cobos’ double switch made the Fire a more defensive unit; a curious tactic considering the game was tied at zero and completely up for grabs at the time. He might have been better served to keep the third sub in his back pocket for later in the game, when the Fire could’ve used the attacking help that newly signed forward Cristian Nazarit — who didn’t make it off the bench on Saturday — would’ve provided.

2) Set-piece sorrows

The Fire gave Philadelphia a couple of dangerous set piece opportunities Saturday and they paid the price, as the Union scored both of their goals directly after dead-ball opportunities.

The Union’s first goal came in the 64th minute. Midfielder Kyle Nakazawa lined up a free kick 10 yards from the end line on the left flank, rolling a pass to on-rushing defender Michael Farfan who hit his first time shot into the back of the net from 25 yards.

Ruiz’s winner didn’t come on a set play, but it did happen right after one. The Guatemalan forward tried to chip a 28-yard free kick to the back post, but couldn’t lift his cross over Pause, who tried to clear the danger with a header. 

Pause didn’t get the ball far enough or wide enough though, allowing Ruiz to collect it before smashing his volley in for the lead.

“It was a great goal,” Oduro said. “Nothing you can do about it. It just happened at a bad moment.”

3) Earthquake alert

The Fire take on the Earthquakes twice in the next week, playing San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium in a US Open Cup qualifying match Tuesday night and taking on the Quakes in league play at Toyota Park on Saturday.  

The Fire, who haven’t played the same team twice in the same week since 2006, will need to play well to earn results against the suddenly streaking Quakes, who are 3-0-1 across all competitions this month.

“There’s nothing we can do but keep our heads up,” Oduro said. “Right now we’re among the bottom on the table, but at the same time, we have a lot of games to go. We just have to reach out for the points and keep trying to make the playoffs.”