The long faces from a few days before were gone. The Chicago Fire got back to business Saturday and showed they are capable of recovering from a setback.
Three days before Saturday’s match against Vancouver, the Fire took a loss for the first time in nearly two months and went all the way to penalty kicks while playing on turf.
Playing on short rest without two regular starters (David Accam and Dax McCarty) and coming off a long game on turf, the Fire picked up another home win and prevented a downward spiral.
It is fitting that the same day that the Fire showed this resilience in the form of a 4-0 win the team moved into the Supporters’ Shield lead after Toronto lost at Dallas.
“I think we shifted very well from the loss that we had,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “For us, it was very important to see it, that it’s possible to recover after 120 minutes and in just a couple of days be ready to perform like we performed today. Fantastic performance, fantastic mood. The mentality was great. That’s how the great teams play, but we still have to work a lot to be a great team.”
Last year, Paunovic would talk about how he believed better things were to come. Now he is trying to keep his team grounded. The Fire haven’t won anything yet this season, although a playoff berth seems nearly certain.
At the start of the season, most Fire fans would have been relatively satisfied with just making the playoffs to break the five-year drought. Hopes and expectations are higher now.
“I’m going to be the party breaker now and I want to stop the euphoria because I think it’s important to know that we still haven’t done anything,” Paunovic said. “It’s great to hear that our stats are improving... but we have to know that this is still half of the season, a long way to go.”
Throughout an MLS schedule there are plenty of games that can be explained with an asterisk of external factors altering a result. That could be a key player out of the lineup for injury, suspension or international duty. It could be short rest with cross-country travel. The Fire had all of that going against them on Saturday and beat a respectable Vancouver team by four goals and led by three goals inside 25 minutes.
“The main focus (Saturday) was just to make sure that we didn’t have any excuses in terms of playing a game Wednesday and going 120 minutes,” said midfielder Arturo Alvarez, who scored the third goal of the match. “It’s part of the profession. We got to make sure that we prepare ourselves for this game.”
The Fire now enter into what could be the toughest stretch of games on the entire schedule. Next is another midweek game at Portland with McCarty still with the national team and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s availability in question after he left Saturday’s game in the first half with an injury. Accam could return from playing with Ghana, but he sat out the last two games the Fire played on turf.
After that, the Fire will go on break while the Gold Cup begins and return with back-to-back road games at New York City FC, which has the third-best record in MLS, and Sporting Kansas City, which leads the Western Conference. Counting Portland, those three teams have a combined two losses in 27 home games this season.
Those games will be tough, but even if the Fire struggle in the rest of July, the team showed against Vancouver that it can respond well to adversity.
“That’s big, the reaction,” forward Michael de Leeuw said. “Because you know in the back of your head you know you played 120 minutes. You lost on penalties, that’s also mentally (tough). If you see how quick we scored the goals and we ended their chance to win because we were so dominant on the field. We were winning duels, creating a lot of chances. I think they also thought like OK, they played Wednesday 120 minutes and right away we killed them. That was a good feeling for us.”