Fire reeling from "nightmare" defensive performance

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Chicago Fire left back Gonzalo Segares said it was “a nightmare.” Captain Logan Pause had no answer for it. Interim head coach Frank Klopas could only call it “disappointing.”

Their words may have been different, but their message was the same: Chicago’s defense was beyond miserable in Sunday’s 4-2 loss at the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Fire’s back line made several key errors, consistently looked disorganized and lacked any semblance of urgency in their embarrassing defeat at Empire Field. The match was far and away the defense’s worst game under Klopas, who had seen his revamped backline give up just seven goals in his first 10 games in charge.

In Klopas’ 11th match at the helm, they allowed more than half of that total to a Whitecaps team that had scored only 14 times in their previous 18 contests.

“I don’t know [what happened],” Segares told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “It’s just frustrating because defensively we’ve been good, we’ve been strong. We just had one of our worst performances on Sunday.”

Chicago’s defense made huge individual mistakes on all four of Vancouver’s goals. The first came in the very first minute. Defender Yamith Cuesta whiffed on a bouncing ball deep in the Fire’s half, allowing Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli to pounce and finish from just outside the 18.

Fire forward Dominic Oduro scored to make it 1-1 in the 23rd minute, but Chicago’s next big error came just one minute later. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson couldn’t corral a low long-distance shot from ‘Caps midfielder Gershon Koffie, letting the seemingly harmless effort bounce over his head and into the back of the net.

Third up was center back Josip Mikulic. The Croatian defender was turned far too easily at the top of the box by Camilo, allowing the Vancouver forward to waltz into the box for a 48th-minute finish.

The final mistake came on a 72nd-minute set piece — something the Fire have prided themselves on defending since Klopas’ May takeover. No Chicago defenders tracked their marks after Camilo put a 20-yard free kick on goal, allowing Hassli to run in and bag a rebound for his brace.

“Those games are going to happen,” Pause said. “I think some individual mistakes coupled with just kind of lack of urgency and effort and attitude as a whole kind of caught up with us on Sunday. We were playing another team bottom of the table, fighting for points and we just came out flat.”

That the Fire came out flat on Sunday is equal parts surprising and concerning. They had harped on staying focused during the build up to the game, and, with their playoff lives to fight for and an encouraging performance in their last match behind them, it seemed relatively safe to assume that the Chicago back four would fight hard against the Whitecaps.

Instead they looked disinterested in defending, paying the price by tying their season-high for goals conceded in a match.

“I wish I had an answer for you,” Pause said when asked why the defense looked flat. “I think sometimes those things come in waves. But where we are and as a leader of this team I take responsibility for the group as a whole and the attitude as a whole.

"Of course some of that stuff you can’t control, it’s individual stuff, but as a whole I take personal responsibility of where we are now in terms of that. It’s more than a little bit disappointing. You’re going to lose games; it’s part of it. But I touched on it earlier, it’s the way you lose games and this was just was a very disappointing result.”

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.