Apr 7, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) reacts after scoring a goal against the Columbus Crew in the first half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — A simple look at the faces in the Chicago Fire locker room wouldn’t have given a clue as to which team won Saturday’s match, especially considering it was the Fire’s first win of the season.
The Fire beat the Columbus Crew 1-0, but none of the Fire players seemed particularly thrilled.
As reporters entered the Fire’s locker room, Bastian Schweinsteiger joked the team employed the “Italian style,” implying the Fire’s defensive nature in the match. When it was pointed out that defender Drew Conner looked tired, he nodded in an exasperated manner and said he “ran a lot.” Defender Johan Kappelhof was asked an easy question about if he was pleased to see the team get a shutout after defensive struggles, but he wasn’t taking the bait.
“The team was struggling so they put more pressure on the defense of course,” Kappelhof said. “We have to work hard. We don’t have a lot of possession, so it put more pressure on the defense. Today we worked hard as a team. I think there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile, Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter was happy to talk up his team’s performance.
“This is one of those games that you end up losing and getting nothing from, but you’re only disappointed with the result,” Berhalter said. “The effort I think was excellent. A lot of the execution was excellent. When I’m looking at some of these numbers, it’s really good. What was missing was the finishing touch.”
The numbers Berhalter looked at included his team’s 65 percent possession, including 72 percent in the second half, and 20 total shots. The Fire managed five shots, one on target and none in the second half. The one shot on target for the Fire came as a result of a Zack Steffen pass that Nemanja Nikolic intercepted and scored immediately after.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic didn’t even sugarcoat the performance.
“I’m going to give you the honest assessment,” Paunovic said. “This is not the way we want to play. Definitely not always, but it’s good to have this resource because sometimes you will face better teams like we faced today and you have to learn these kind of games, too.”
For the Fire, it was a way to keep pace in the Eastern Conference standings. The Fire’s four points is still below the playoff line, but it’s too early to be out of the race in the forgiving nature of Major League Soccer’s playoff format.
For Columbus, it’s about trying to replicate similar performances going forward except put the ball in the net and get the result to go with it.