BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Possession, shots and scoring chances usually correlate with winning. That hasn’t been the case for much of the Chicago Fire’s season, however, and was the reality once again Saturday night as they fell 2-1 to last-place FC Cincinnati.
In what felt like a must-win game for the Fire in the playoff hunt, they were frequent the architects of their own demise as Cincinnati only found offensive opportunity when the Fire gifted it to them.
“Our biggest threat isn’t our opponents, it’s ourselves,” said Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic after the game.
Cincinnati registered just three shots on goal, none of which were stopped by Kenneth Kronholm in the Chicago goal (defender Francisco Calvo blocked one). FCC struck less than a minute into the match, as a poor touch from Fabian Herbers gave Allan Cruz a tap-in, and then late on snagged a winner courtesy of Fanendo Adi after the Fire gave the ball away in midfield.
Adding to the frustration were two missed penalty kicks by Nico Gaitan (the second of which he scored on the rebound) and repeated surges forward that stalled at the crucial moment.
After boos rained down like the skies that opened up during the game’s 59-minute weather delay, the home fans left quickly as traveling Cincinnati supporters sang them out of the stadium. The squads followed suit, as Fire players made quick exits while yells, laughs and cheers echoed out of the visiting locker room.
The mood inside SeatGeek Stadium couldn’t have been in starker contrast with the week before, when Chicago routed defending champions Atlanta United 5-1 in their standout performance of the season thus far.
Paunovic referenced that game as proof of what his team is capable of and why this group of players can be a playoff team. While he may be keeping it front of mind, for some it’s a distraction from the task the Fire have in front of them.
“We need to forget about that game,” said Calvo. “Everybody is talking about Atlanta, but Atlanta is over. We scored five, but then we go to Kansas [City] and we lose, and then we lost [tonight].”
But Calvo said he believes the squad and coaching staff are capable of figuring it out, a sentiment Paunovic echoed.
“This group can do it … I absolutely believe in this group we have,” Paunovic said. “Nobody in this locker room is going to give up as long as I’m here.”
How long Paunovic will be “here” was the question that hovered over the final moments of Saturday’s match, with the Fire sitting four points out of a playoff place (thanks in part to wins Saturday for Toronto and Orlando) having won just twice since the beginning of May.
“Every day I’m concerned about my job security,” Paunovic said, before clarifying: “I’m not concerned, it’s moreso I’m aware.”