During the Chicago Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days, FC Dallas had the best record out of the four opponents by a wide margin.
However, when Dallas came to Toyota Park on Thursday, the lineup that took the field was not the typical FCD squad. Dallas rotated many starters in advance of Sunday’s game against Houston (which ended a 0-0 draw).
Still, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty thought Dallas still provided tough opposition.
“This was the hardest game we played in this four-game stretch by far,” McCarty said after the game. “They’re a really well-coached team, they’re organized, they’re tough to break down, they have the best defensive record in the league for a reason. I don’t care if they rotated players, that was a really good team.”
Dallas proved to be a tough defensive team after a wild first 10 minutes that featured three goals. The game slowed and the Fire limited Dallas’ attack the rest of the way with McCarty and his central midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, keying the 2-1 win.
McCarty, Schweinsteiger key Fire midfield
The headline for this section is obvious and probably something that can be said every match, but both McCarty and Schweinsteiger had good showings on Thursday.
The duo had the most touches in the match (Schweinsteiger with 105, McCarty with 93) and both completed passes at a high rate (Schweinsteiger 87 percent, McCarty 86 percent). Dallas isn’t a team built around keeping possession (FCD is actually towards the bottom of the league in possession), but the Fire held the edge even with Dallas chasing the Fire’s lead for more than 80 minutes.
Schweinsteiger had a game-high 12 ball recoveries, including two past midfield, won four tackles and had two interceptions, both in the attacking half. McCarty had five ball recoveries, but more impressively won three tackles past midfield. The Fire's ability to press and win the ball higher up the field was on display in this match and these two were at the heart of that.
McCarty's highlight came on a play when both centerbacks made mistakes that took them out of the play. A few minutes before halftime Johan Kappelhof dribbled forward, but lost control and turned it over. Joao Meira wildly slid to stop the ball, but missed badly. That left the Fire scrambling, but McCarty saw it the whole way and was able to recover to block a cross and only concede a corner kick.
The clip below starts just after Kappelhof's turnover:
Matt Hedges was very good
The Fire scored two early goals, but didn’t generate much in the way of chances after that. A big reason why was Dallas centerback Matt Hedges.
Hedges won plenty of aerial duels and also had the speed to keep up with David Accam in 1v1 spots on a few occasions.
The Fire had just three shots on target, not counting Nemanja Nikolic’s saved penalty in added time, the entire match. That’s not a good output, especially when considering two of those came in the first 10 minutes.
Hedges was credited with eight ball recoveries (the most on Dallas and second only to Schweinsteiger’s 12 for the match), four interceptions, four clearances and a pair of tackles won.
The 6-foot-5 centerback was just called in to the latest national team roster and this performance was a good example of why.
Fire hold on for close win
The Fire led this game for the final 81 minutes and did so without Dallas getting a shot on target after Roland Lamah’s early goal.
Previous Fire teams developed a reputation for blowing these kinds of games. This year’s team held on without much drama.
Even if Dallas was without much of its best attacking talent, the Fire limited Dallas to just the one shot on target (Lamah’s goal in the sixth minute). Dallas was chasing the game for 80 minutes and couldn’t even test Matt Lampson.
In the final 20 minutes Dallas had three free kicks that went into the box and a corner kick. Nothing came from those and there wasn’t anything from the run of play other than three crosses into the box that were cleared without drama.
The insurance goal never came, but the Fire did have the best chances in the final minutes. Juninho had a hard shot on target in the 89th minute and Nikolic had a penalty kick in added time. The Fire also had a majority of the possession in the final 10 minutes.