Mar 31, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi (9) and Chicago Fire midfielder Drew Conner (18) run for a loose ball during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Fire remained winless on the season after a 2-2 draw with Portland. Some familiar problems and some new things were evident from the match.
Here are three things we learned from the match:
Schweinsteiger can still make plays in the attack from sweeper
In the first half of 2017, Bastian Schweinsteiger played as a libero or sweeper in a few games for the Fire. Down the stretch he moved back to his more typical role in central midfield.
On Saturday, the German started in midfield, but after the Fire fell down a goal early on, he was moved to sweeper in a 3-5-2 formation. The Fire lost the possession battle in the first half and still leaked chances. Schweinsteiger even remained deep on Fire corner kicks as the last man back to prevent counters.
However, Schweinsteiger would show what he can do in a more advanced position. He dribbled forward and beat a pair of Timbers to set up the Fire’s first goal. He fed Brandon Vincent, who assisted Nemanja Nikolic with a cross. Later, he assisted Vincent with a long ball into the box in the 84th minute for the tying goal.
“Even from there it doesn’t mean you are just watching the game from the back line,” Schweinsteiger said. “You also should take the responsibility from there. But not only me, also other players who are playing in the back line and take the ball and drive in and play the first pass.”
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic has maintained that he will use Schweinsteiger in different roles depending on the opponent so on some level this shouldn’t be a surprise. However, with the Fire’s lack of quality and healthy attacking options, moving Schweinsteiger up the field seemed logical.
The Fire still need help in the attack
This isn’t exactly something we learned because it was already known, but the Fire need help in chance creation and attacking midfield. Long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic and short-term injuries to Luis Solignac and Daniel Johnson limited Paunovic’s options, but the Fire’s ability to create chances has been significantly diminished from the high points of last season.
Rookie Elliot Collier had his moments in his second straight start and fellow rookie Diego Campos made an impact off the bench, but the fact that the Fire are relying on two later round draft picks to play key minutes in attacking positions says it all. Solignac and Johnson will compete for starting minutes when healthy and their returns will help, but touted offseason signing Aleksandar Katai was subbed off at halftime and it wasn’t injury related. Nemanja Nikolic managed to score again, but he is not getting consistent quality service.
Defensive woes continue
The Fire’s season-opening 4-3 loss to Sporting Kansas City showed a number of defensive woes that haven’t gone away in the two matches that have followed. The Fire have given up eight goals in three games and for the second straight home match, Paunovic lamented the defensive errors.
“The defensive performance is very poor,” Paunovic said. “I see that there is a lack of connection, a lack of communication and that has to be fixed.”
Injuries kept out Jonathan Campbell, Matt Polster and Rafael Ramos, which hasn’t helped, but the defensive woes could be deeper than player absences. If the Fire continue to struggle defensively with a slightly disjointed attack, it’s going to be a long season.