BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire came out with a game plan of pressing high against the Philadelphia Union’s young backline in Saturday’s 3-1 loss.
Right away, that strategy backfired.
With midfielders pushing forward in the seventh minute, center back Arne Friedrich was forced to step up and challenge Danny Cruz, giving Jack McInerny space to run onto a through pass in between right back Jalil Anibaba and center back Austin Berry to put the Fire in an early deficit.
“We talked about stepping up like we do at home and putting pressure on them,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “They’ve got a young back four, and I think the first time, we were stepping too hectically, and we kind of got stretched and they played the ball through.”
The Fire pressed in the second half, subbing on two extra forwards. With Fire defenders pushed out of position, Gabriel Gómez was wide open at the corner of the penalty area in the 67th minute when he lined up an upper-corner blast to make the score 2-0.
Friedrich said he wasn’t worried after the Fire’s 2-0 loss to Kansas City last Friday because of the way his team played in the second half.
On Wednesday, his tone was different.
“We forgot to defend,” Friedrich said. “This is what we did very bad the last couple of weeks. This is our goal for the next couple of weeks, it must be, because when we did good, we were always focused to defend well.”
The Fire haven’t registered a shutout in their last 12 league games. Seven times during that period, the Fire have allowed the first goal, even though it included a stretch of seven wins in eight games.
“The last couple of weeks everybody saw that everybody was focused on scoring, and we did very bad,” Friedrich said. “We were always very good when we had a good shape. This is what we missed the last couple of weeks.”
Just a week ago, the Fire were discussing the chance of leaping into first place in the Eastern Conference with a win against Kansas City. Now, they’re five points out of first place and just five points ahead of Columbus in sixth place with a road game against New York looming on Saturday.
Leo Percovich, who filled in for suspended head coach Frank Klopas, was blunt when putting Saturday’s performance into perspective.
“I think it was the worst game we played this season,” the Fire assistant said. “When you play at home, you never expected that. … Soccer is not an exact science.”