Following a US Open Cup quarter-final win, the announcements of the signing of Sebastian Grazzini and an upcoming friendly with Chivas Guadalajara, the Chicago Fire were on the brink of a highly successful week. Unfortunately, Saturday night spoiled any chances of it being a truly memorable week as the Fire suffered a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers at Toyota Park.
The boo’s heard after the final whistle told the whole story. Being swept by an expansion team is embarrassing in itself, but losing to a club who had yet to register an away win is as exasperating as it gets.
So where did they go wrong? Take it for what it is, but Elias Bazakos added his name to a long list of MLS referees guilty of making dreadful, game-changing decisions. In the latest edition of bad refereeing in the MLS, Bazakos pointed to the spot after Gonzalo Segares had been adjudged to have unjustly brought down Jorge Perlaza. Outside of the penalty area, it’s a good call. But giving a penalty for so little contact in which the offensive player went down far too easily is an extremely questionable decision, to put it nicely. Sean Johnson had no chance with Jack Jewsbury’s penalty kick. The decision to send off Yamith Cuesta was also a dreadful mistake, as one, if not both, of the yellow cards were debatable.
In fairness, the man in the middle wasn’t the only one to blame for the defeat. Someone may need to check the goal measurements at Toyota Park, because the Fire have a habit of hitting the woodwork this season. Cory Gibbs struck the post with a fine header in the first half before substitute Orr Barouch smashed a shot off the crossbar after the interval, and not for the first time this season. Gibbs was simply with his header, but with the goal gaping, Barouch should’ve had more composure to stick the ball in the back of the net.
Seeing the Fire come so close to scoring time and time again beckons the question, where is the finishing? Grazzini will make a huge impact in linking the midfield and the offense, but what good will that be if the Fire can’t finish their chances. Saturday night wasn’t necessarily a case of the Fire forwards demonstrating a poor finish, but the season as a whole has proved that this is a major area of concern.
Johnson did well for the Fire to keep the score at 1-0, but Troy Perkins did better. The former D.C. United ‘keeper was on the top of his game on Saturday night, pulling off a string of fine saves to deny Marco Pappa an equalizer. His best save of the bunch arrived in stoppage time as he instinctively stuck out a leg to prevent Pappa’s long-distance shot through traffic from finding the back of the net.
With the loss to Portland, the Fire haven’t won at home in the league since March 26th – 18 matches and 113 days ago. When you look at it that way, you have to wonder if those boo’s were warranted. And no matter how you look at things, it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that the Fire have been absolutely dreadful at home. With what many consider to be the most passionate supporters in the league, the fans who make the trip to Toyota Park for every home match deserve better.
The players themselves deserve better. They’ve been unlucky at times, but all things considered, they just haven’t done enough. The Fire’s home record currently stands at one win, two losses, and six draws. The two home defeats (LA, Portland), were certainly disappointing, but it is those six draws that really have me lamenting the club’s home form this season.
Several of those draws could’ve, and truthfully, should’ve been wins. It’s one thing to have poor away form, but being unable to register more than one win more than halfway through the season is an alarming fact. If the club wants to turn things around, improving on its home form is vital. And so is avoiding those crossbars.
The Chicago Fire take a break from league play this weekend when they play Manchester United in a highly anticipated friendly at Soldier Field. The Fire will resume MLS duty when they host the Philadelphia Union on August 3rd, meaning there’s plenty of time for the Fire to work on finding a solution to its disappointing home form.