A lot of factors seemed to be going against the Chicago Fire when they faced Vancouver on Saturday, but it turned into another dominant home win.
The Fire were coming off a long game on turf midweek and were without two standout starters, David Accam and Dax McCarty. Despite that, Nemanja Nikolic returned to his goal-scoring ways and the Fire routed the Whitecaps.
Here’s a look at how Vancouver nearly changed the entire match with a pair of early chances, Michael de Leeuw’s big game and how the Fire have turned into a possession team.
Vancouver’s early chances
It didn’t take long for these plays to be forgotten considering what happened later in the first half, but Vancouver came close to taking an early lead twice in the opening 10 minutes.
A Cristian Techera free kick whizzed in front of goal without anyone connecting with it in just the second minute. In the sixth minute Christian Bolanos smacked a low shot from distance that beat Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson and slammed off the post.
These were early warning signs that the Fire may not be recovered from the long midweek game and loss in Cincinnati, but the game didn’t play out that way. Had the Whitecaps converted one of these early changes, things could have been very different.
Michael de Leeuw’s big game
The big story for the Dutch forward was that he finally scored on Saturday. Even without the goal, he once again was valuable in other ways.
He had a nice turn and through ball to Nikolic in the 11th minute, but Nikolic couldn’t control the ball. Seven minutes later the duo connected again and this time Nikolic finished. De Leeuw won a loose ball and gave it to Nikolic, who held off a defender and beat goalkeeper David Ousted.
The two forwards connected frequently on Saturday. De Leeuw nearly assisted Nikolic again to give him his hat trick in the 83rd minute, but Nikolic’s shot went inches wide of the post. When de Leeuw finally scored, it was Nikolic who gave him the assist as part of a give-and-go.
De Leeuw finished with four shots, three of which were on target. He admitted after the game that the one that wasn’t on target, an 80th minute effort where he cut onto his right foot and shanked a shot wide, should have been a goal.
Nikolic and de Leeuw showed good chemistry up top and if de Leeuw can start scoring now that he is on the board, this could be another way the Fire’s attack can hurt teams.
Fire control possession again
This isn’t specifically about Saturday’s match, but the Fire once again controlled possession. They did so without Dax McCarty playing in midfield and with Bastian Schweinsteiger getting subbed out late in the first half due to injury.
The Fire finished with 60.7 percent possession. It is the sixth time in the past eight matches that the Fire have had a majority of the possession.
The improvement in possession isn’t a surprise considering the additions of McCarty, Juninho and Schweinsteiger to central midfield, but considering how bad the Fire were in that area last year (dead last in the league averaging a 43 percent share of possession) it is still quite staggering. Vancouver is last in the league this year in possession so the Fire's dominance on Saturday lined up with what the teams have been doing lately.
Schweinsteiger highlight of the week
Finally, an obligatory gif of Schweinsteiger turning out of traffic with two players on him.