Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Why can't the Fire score against bunkering defenses?

It’s no secret that the Chicago Fire have struggled against teams that bunker in defensively and wait for the Fire to come to them.

Saturday’s loss at New York City FC was another example of that. The hosts were at full strength for less than 11 minutes and still outscored the Fire after Yangel Herrera was sent off for a second yellow card.

Coach Veljko Paunovic is well aware of his team’s struggles against the defensive strategy New York utilized. He has spoken about it, but there hasn’t been any improvement.

Here’s a look at what went wrong for the Fire in The Bronx.

How the game played at full strength

This game was yet another missed opportunity to see how the Fire stack up against a quality opponent. Add this game to that list along with the time FC Dallas sent its B-team to Toyota Park and when Orlando suffered two red cards when the Fire played in Florida.

The Fire looked a bit sluggish to start. NYCFC had the early possession edge and should have had a penalty kick called after Bastian Schweinsteiger was stripped of the ball and Johan Kappelhof tackled Herrera in the box, but got away with it. It would have been interesting to see if the Fire could adjust, but things obviously changed after the red card.

The rest of the first half

Despite turning the man advantage into solid control of the possession battle, the Fire weren’t turning the possession into shots in the first half.

The Fire managed just three shots in the first half and all three were from well outside the box. One of them probably wasn’t even a shot. Johan Kappelhof took a low drive just before halftime that was deflected by a defender and forced Sean Johnson into a tough save.


The Fire spent too much time cycling the ball around and not making an incisive pass. As has been the case in the two previous games that were similar to this (at Orlando and the Open Cup loss in Cincinnati), Dax McCarty was not there for the Fire. McCarty’s ability to quickly push the ball forward via a pass is something the team has continued to miss without him. The Fire have looked competitive, and at times good, without him, but the dropoff from how the Fire play with him as opposed to without him builds a strong argument that McCarty is the team MVP.

The Fire settled for too many crosses without McCarty’s forward passing ability. They are credited with completing just one cross in seven attempts in the first half. It didn’t help that Brandon Vincent picked up an injury in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup. On top of that, Schweinsteiger was uncharacteristically sloppy.

Things changed when David Accam entered

It’s not clear why David Accam didn’t start for the Fire, but they definitely played better once he entered as a halftime sub for Luis Solignac.

Of course, Accam’s entrance also coincided with the Fire’s defense going AWOL for the first five minutes of the half, but he did bring the team back into the game with a miraculous long-range strike that went in off the bottom of the crossbar.

Accam didn’t complete many passes (9 for 14), but he was credited with five successful dribbles. That was more than the rest of the team combined in the second half.

His ability to take players on in one-on-one situations was an important asset with NYCFC defending with numbers and conceding possession to the Fire. Paunovic brought on young players Djordje Mihailovic and Daniel Johnson, both offensively-minded players who are willing to take risks to create chances.

The Fire cranked up the heat with 20 shots in the second half, including 11 from the 76th minute on, but it wasn’t enough to break down NYCFC’s defense.

Paunovic and Co. will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to score against teams that play the way New York did on Saturday.