Chicago Fire's defensive issues stand out in loss to Seattle
In case there was any doubt, the Seattle Sounders pounded home the point Saturday afternoon: The Chicago Fire needs help defensively.
Seattle scored the first three goals and settled in for a 4-2 victory in front of a sparse crowd at SeatGeek Stadium. It could have been worse, but two more Sounders goals were disallowed for offsides.
"Obviously, it's not good, not good at all," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said, noting that the problems aren't just with the back line. "But we'll keep working and try to fix it."
For a Chicago team that just signed playmaking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan to boost the offense, the need for defensive reinforcements was obvious.
"Probably yes, but I think that's something that we are aware of and we are working on," Paunovic said. "And as we said in the past, it's not easy to sign a player. We are aware, and I agree we have to fix our defense."
That problem is made more difficult because the Fire already has all nine of its international roster slots filled, with Gaitan ready to assume an international slot as well. With left back Jorge Corrales suspended, the Fire had to loan out midfielder Mo Adams to make his international slot available to Raheem Edwards, whom they recalled from the USL.
To its credit the Fire (0-2-1, 1 point) fought back to challenge Seattle (3-0-0, 9 points) in the second half. First-half substitute Edwards scored his first goal of the season in the 56th minute to cut the Seattle lead to 3-1. When Fire newcomer Fabian Herbers added another goal in the 84th, it looked like the Fire had a chance to earn a draw. Instead Seattle answered with a Raul Ruidiaz goal in the 88th to seal the victory.
Paunovic tried to stabilize the defense, bringing in Edwards for Nicolas Hasler, playing out of position at left back in Corrales' absence, in the 35th minute. Paunovic said he apologized to Hasler in front of the team for the early sub.
"Obviously, the goal was to bring the team back," Edwards said. "Being down two at the half, I had to inject a little bit of energy and forwardness to the game."
Paunovic also moved defensive midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger to the back line again. That helped, but it wasn't enough.
"Of course it's always better if you have more points, but I still believe we have talented players," Schweinsteiger said. "I think second half, I don't know how it was for you, but for me it was much better. We have to stay positive and minimize our mistakes."
Paunovic said giving up two quick goals affected the Fire's confidence. It also can't help the team's confidence that it has just 1 point in its first three games this season, two of them at home. The Fire will take next weekend's bye to regroup before hosting the New York Red Bulls on March 30.
"At the end of the day, I think we lost the game because of our mistakes, and it's my responsibility, obviously," Paunovic said. "We just have to know that the team always, through the years, always had difficult starts. ... I believe we can pick it up. I believe we can come back."