Facing a must-win situation against the worst team in the league, the Chicago Fire turned in a clunker on Sunday, getting embarrassed by the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2 at Empire Field.
The Fire were a nightmare defensively, making several huge mistakes that led to Vancouver goals. Here are three other storylines from Sunday night that you might have missed.
For a team that desperately needed a win, the Fire looked incredibly lethargic. Chicago gave up a goal just 35 seconds after the opening kickoff and, despite equalizing in the 23rd minute, never quite rebounded. They went down 2-1 in the 24th before falling two behind just three minutes into the second half.
Chicago were playing on short rest, sure, but they said that the quick turnaround — Chicago tied Philadelphia 1-1 on Wednesday night — didn’t hinder them physically.
“I think we came out flat both at the start of the game and in the second half,” captain Logan Pause said. “We managed to dig back by evening it up in the first half, but then a minute later give up the goal.”
The extent of the Fire’s exhaustion is far more concerning because it seems to be stemming from issues that transcend the actual play on the pitch.
“[We’re] probably more mentally fatigued that we’re in last place,” Pause added when asked if the team was tired from Wednesday. “I think that physically that stuff can add up, but that’s no excuse today.”
Klopas explains substitutions
Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas made a pair of somewhat puzzling substitutions with his team down 3-1 in the 56th minute. He chose to remove attacking midfielders Marco Pappa and Sebastián Grazzini for forwards Orr Barouch and Cristian Nazarit when he could’ve subbed off the more defensive-minded Daniel Paladini instead.
The changes, which moved the Fire from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 and dropped Dominic Oduro from striker to winger, left Chicago without an attacking center mid for the final 35 minutes — something they could have used as they attempted to come back from their two-goal deficit.
“[I made the changes] because we were losing,” Klopas said. “We put more forwards on and brought Oduro out wide to push the game and create space. I felt that [Grazzini and Pappa] were tired, [and that] they didn’t create enough opportunities."
Barouch the lone bright spot
Although he only played 35 minutes, rookie forward Orr Barouch was the Fire’s best player Sunday night, scoring a goal and playing with purpose after coming on 10 minutes into the second half.
The 19-year-old striker found the back of the net in the 80th minute when he ran onto a long ball, dribbled into the right side of the box and fired a shot across the face of goal and inside the far post.
The goal was the second of the season for Barouch, who would have added another goal Sunday if it weren’t for a fantastic save by Whitecaps ‘keeper Jay Nolly in the 72nd minute. The on-loan forward has had a promising season, leading the Reserve League in scoring and netting twice in last month’s US Open Cup quarterfinal win over the New York Red Bulls.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.