The Chicago Fire started a three-game road trip on Friday and it was yet another loss away from Toyota Park.
The loss at Toronto wasn't a shameful result because Toronto is one of the most talented teams in the league and has a former league MVP leading the way. Sebastian Giovinco torched the Fire for two goals and was upset he didn't get a third. Here's a look at Giovinco's game against the Fire and a couple other observations from the 16th road loss in 20 road matches for coach Veljko Paunovic.
Trying to contain Giovinco
The 2015 MLS MVP scored a pair of goals against the Fire and had chances for more. Heck, he was even angry when he got subbed out a couple minutes after scoring his second goal.
The Italian had 11 shots and six on target. As a team, the Fire had nine shots and one on target. Whatever the gameplan was on defending Giovinco, it didn't work. Those numbers are too much to allow and not expect him to score a goal or two.
Giovinco is so hard to defend because he can beat you with a powerful shot if you don't close him down, as happened on the first goal, and he can get by you with his quickness if you get too tight on him. He forced Michael Harrington into that tough choice on the first goal. Giovinco didn't move much in the lead up to the goal, but was allowed to receive the ball with a bit of space and was quick to turn and score with a hard right-footed shot.
Patience in midfield
The Fire's midfield has been revamped from a year ago with three quality players in central midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho all are solid passers. Having three players like this is very different from last year when the Fire were last in the league in time in possession.
Maybe the team needs some time to adjust to being able to play a different style, but this shouldn't be a long ball team like it was last year. The Fire can sit on the ball, be patient and control the tempo of the game. This is especially true when speedy winger David Accam doesn't start and also against a team like Toronto, which doesn't press high.
Without Accam in the lineup, the Fire don't have enough speed or technically adept players to play at pace. Forwards Nemanja Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw are best at finding space in the box and poaching goals, and a more deliberate buildup would play into that better.
Early on against Toronto, the Fire seemed to rush things and played at a higher tempo than necessary, which played into Toronto's hands. Only towards the end of the first half, after TFC led 2-0, did the Fire slow things down. There was a 19-pass sequence in the 41st minute with most of the passes coming in Toronto's half. The end result was a Juninho cross that was headed out for a corner kick. The Fire have shown at various times this season the ability to string passes together for extended periods. If the Fire had displayed that patience more consistently early on, they might not have been in a two-goal hole.
Check out this interaction with Schweinsteiger signaling to McCarty to play it wide to keep the ball. McCarty passes it forward and turns it over while Schweinsteiger looks up in frustration. Schweinsteiger was encouraging the route that wasn't going to lead to a chance, but would keep the Fire on the ball.
After the match, Schweinsteiger called it a "strange game." Schweinsteiger's first road game may have been a bit of a "Welcome to MLS" moment for the German.
This isn't the pristine, manicured, high-profile game that Bayern Munich, the German national team and Manchester United play. This is MLS, where parity reigns and no team is as dominant as any of the three teams Schweinsteiger has played for.
Beyond that, MLS teams don't dominant games like Bayern or Man U strive to do. Toronto had a slight edge in possession early, but once the Reds went up two goals, they let the Fire control possession. This is something Schweinsteiger will have to get used to.
The Fire also weren't happy with either of the calls that led to the set pieces that Toronto scored on. Michael de Leeuw wanted a foul to go the other way in the 31st minute. Giovinco's ensuing free kick forced a corner kick and Toronto scored on that corner. Then in the 81st minute every Fire player in the vicinity was upset with the foul that went against Johan Kappelhof and led to Giovinco's free kick goal.
There's also the handball that got called in the 72nd minute against Justin Morrow, but was incorrectly called outside the box for a free kick. The Fire didn't have a shot on goal yet and were down two goals so a penalty kick probably wouldn't have turned things around, but would have made it more interesting down the stretch.
Welcome to MLS, Bastian. It sure can be strange.