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Defensive struggles continue for Chicago Fire in 2-1 loss to Toronto

Jul 21, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) heads a shot toward the goal against the Toronto FC during the first half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Two teams entered Toyota Park in need of a win on Saturday, but it was Toronto FC that found the extra gear in the second half.

TFC knocked off the Chicago Fire 2-1. All three goals came in the second half after neither team put a shot on target in the first.

The Reds snapped a six-match winless streak and sent the Fire to a fourth straight MLS loss.

Jozy Altidore returned to the lineup for the first time in an MLS match since March. He didn’t score, but his big body is always a factor for an opposing defense. Altidore was replaced in the 80th minute by Victor Vazquez, who had missed the last four matches.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney said his team is starting to look like its old self.

“It’s big because guys start to play in natural positions,” Vanney said. “Relationships that have existed for a couple years start to come out again. Jozy is the guy who on a very consistent basis holds the ball up for us and brings the game forward. He also occupies a lot of attention, which gives Seba (Giovinco) a little bit more space to work.”

Giovinco had the game’s first goal just after halftime. He cleanly controlled a long ball from Michael Bradley, cut inside on his right foot and buried the shot.

 

The Fire tied things up in the 62nd minute with former TFC winger Raheem Edwards assisting. Edwards debuted for the Fire after arriving from Montreal earlier in the week. Edwards volleyed an Aleksandar Katai free kick back across goal and Nemanja Nikolic headed it in.

Jonathan Osorio quickly gave the lead back to the visitors though. He broke through the Fire’s defense in the 65th minute and scored after Richard Sanchez couldn’t cleanly win the race for the ball.

For the Fire, defensive mistakes again marred the loss.

“Defensively we are what we are and we are not good defensively,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “We’re trying to work and improve, but this has to be solved.”

Toronto has a midweek game in the Canadian Championship, but after that the teams will have a rematch in Toronto on Saturday. Both teams are hoping to climb the Eastern Conference standings to get back in the playoff race.

“If we fix the defense by then, just a little bit, we can have chances,” Paunović said. “If not, we are going to just concede like always and the guys will fight back and score the goal. But this is just too much. We have to do a better job.”

Defensive help may have arrived in the form of recent signing Nicolás Del Grecco. Del Grecco arrived in Chicago Friday night and was in the locker room after the game.

“Across the backline we just have to do a better job of communicating, but it’s a collective 11 man defensive unit out there,” Fire center back Jonathan Campbell said. “We have to track guys, we have to run with them, we have to be more committed and we just have to step it up kind of all over the field. But it can start from us in the back, leading that group. It’s clear that we have to step it up because we’ve been giving up a lot of goals.”

The Fire have allowed 14 goals in the past five MLS matches.

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