Sitting near the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, the Chicago Fire came in limping to Talen Energy Stadium Saturday night. They had won only two contests since May 11th and had won only once in their previous ten matches, albeit dominating Atlanta United FC 5-1 in that victory. The fact that they hadn’t won a road match the entire season had to be putting extra pressure on the Fire as well as head coach, and former Union midfielder, Veljko Paunovic.
The Union returned home to Chester with some concerns of their own. After blowing a chance at three points against Orlando City SC’s B team, the Union upped the ante by getting embarrassed at Real Salt Lake, 4-0. And no, it wasn’t closer than the score indicated. Head coach, Jim Curtin’s squad would still be battling the injury bug as they had against RSL. Stand-out midfielder, Jamiro Monteiro would be out again, along with forward Sergio Santos who is now dealing with a high ankle sprain that could keep him sidelined for a few weeks.
The first half saw the Union threatening to score early on. In the 5th minute, Marco Fabián and Kacper Przybylko executed a nifty give-and-go but Fabián’s shot soared wide right over goal. Soon after, in the 7th minute, Fire midfielder, Brandt Bronico was given a yellow card for a hard slide tackle on Fabián. With Fabián missing a good goal-scoring opportunity and then going down following the hard foul from Bronico, I couldn’t help but think tonight would be the Fabián Union fans have seen for most of the season. That would be inaccurate, haphazard, and ultimately, injured. Little did we know he was about to makes us forget all that for the moment.
Following a hard foul on Brenden Aaronson leading to a free kick, rather than sending the ball towards the goal, Haris Medunjanin played the ball to Kai Wagner at the top of the box. Wagner, in turn, passed it to his right to a waiting Fabián. The Union midfielder one-timed a blast through the Fire defense, past goalkeeper, Kenneth Kronholm, and into the far left side of the net. It was an unexpected display of his talent and brought the fairly quiet, heat-dampened crowd to a roar.
From that point on as far as the first half was concerned, the Union had trouble generating other scoring opportunities. The Fire had a few decent chances to tie things up. A dangerous cross was broken up by a Jack Elliot header in the 15th minute. A ball out of bounds in the 25th minute, clearly by Chicago, was called out by the Union. The Fire went with a quick throw- in and they advanced the ball without impediment down the right side of the pitch. Fabián and Auston Trusty were running stride-for-stride with the ball but neither went for it. They both played off the ball and allowed a cross into the box. Luckily the Union didn’t have to pay for this miscommunication.
A few minutes later, after the Union had regained possession again, Trusty booted the ball down the field past every Union player. Coach Curtin was clearly unhappy with Trusty and gestured his disappointment toward him. Like I said, not much from the Union offensively in the first half after the goal in the 12th minute. It was difficult to tell if it was more the Union parking the bus for the half in the extreme heat, or an inability to create.
The second half began as the first half ended. The Union came out a bit sluggish and slow to create. C.J. Sapong had a goal-scoring chance with a header in the 50th minute but sent it straight to Blake with not much pace. During the play, Wagner caught a blow to the head from Sapong but was able to continue.
Fabián looked to be giving the Union their first scoring chance of the half. In the 52nd minute, he had a breakaway with Fafa Picault wide open. Fabián passed the ball directly to the defender much to the chagrin of the Talen Energy Stadium crowd. He would be subbed out for Anthony Fontana ten minutes later and I believe it was the right call. With his injury history, getting Fabián off the field early with the lead will help preserve him for next week against Montreal. It would also give Fontana a much-deserved half hour run.
The 64th minute saw another scoring chance for the Fire with a similar header from Sapong, but this time he had some force behind it. Blake made the save but you could feel some anxiety in the stagnant air. The Union needed another score and soon. Enter Kai Wagner.
In the 65th minute, he played his own version of the give-and-go with himself! He played the ball in front of the defender and ran around him to regain possession. Wagner was then met by two defenders, fell to the ground, regained possession and fired a pass in front of goal. Although deflected by the Fire, it found the darting Fontana for the easy put-away and 2-0 lead. Aside from a Diego Campos rocket of the bar in the 88th minute, the exhausted Fire had nothing left.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS
- Kai Wagner’s level of play has reached spectacular. Aside from one of the Union’s plays of the year, he demonstrated his tenacity towards the end of the first half as well, using his body and footwork brilliantly to fend the opposition away from the ball at his feet. He is approaching elite level play in my book.
- Brenden Aaronson had his first match in quite a while where he wasn’t used as a punching bag by the other club. He played well but now has Fontana breathing down his neck.
- Although he didn’t score, Ilsinho, who drew the loudest ovation for a Union sub in recent memory, dazzled us usual, making three Fire defenders all look helpless at once.
- Ray Gaddis’ solid season is starting to show some cracks. Last week he had an awful turnover that lead to a goal from RSL. Saturday versus Chicago, more of his passes were off-line or to the oppostition than they were to his teammates. Oh Mbaizo, how we long for thee.
- Lastly, how hot does it have to be for Jim Curtin to not wear the suit jacket?
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Mandatory Credit: Diamond Painting Lovers