Chicago Fire took their unbeaten run to ten matches, maintaining their undefeated home record in the process, with a first half demolition job on Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday afternoon.
An early brace from Nemanja Nikolic set Chicago on their way after some early Vancouver pressure, and there was no looking back after that. Arturo Alvarez volleyed home a cracking third to give the home side a comfortable lead at the half. A Matias Laba sending off and a late fourth from Michael de Leeuw completed the rout, as Chicago took over first place in the Supporters Shield standings.
The Fire were missing a couple of key players, saw Bastian Schweinsteiger limp off before half time, and coming off a grueling 120 plus minute US Open Cup outing on Wednesday evening, yet they were far, far better than a rested Whitecaps side. Imagine what the score would have been without those distractions!
The ‘Caps welcomed back a few of their walking wounded for this one, with Christian Bolanos getting the surprising start in the middle of the midfield, and Yordy Reyna, Nicolas Mezquida, Erik Hurtado, and Christian Dean all making it on to the bench after their long-term injuries. Great to see, but even more so the way this one played out. Vancouver look be needing all the help they can get.
The match actually started in a positive way for Vancouver, and you felt they were really going to make a go of it. But that was a case of being lulled into a false sense of hope.
Bolanos came closest to breaking the deadlock for the ‘Caps six minutes in, hitting a low rasper from distance that cannoned off the right post from 30 yards out.
That was the calm before the storm, and Nikolic shot the home side into the lead in the 14th minute. Matt Polster cut the ball back from the byeline to allow Nikolic to add to his incredible start to the season, banging in his 15th goal from an unmarked position in the middle of the box.
Chicago doubled their lead in the 18th minute when Laba couldn’t control a bouncing pass from Jordan Harvey and was dispossessed by de Leeuw, who played in Nikolic. The Hungarian international shoved off the attentions of Tim Parker to grab his brace with a shot in off the post from just inside the box.
It already looked to be a long way back for Vancouver, but that journey looked out of reach by the 25th minute when Alvarez hit a first time volley off a lovely curling Polster cross to make it 3-0.
Another goal given away by Vancouver to an unmarked player at the back post after Jake Nerwinski was sucked inside to cover an out of position Tim Parker, who was forced to go out left for an out of position Harvey. A real blown defensive effort.
Nikolic nearly grabbed his hat-trick when a Schweinsteiger through ball split the Vancouver defence, but he hit his effort wide as he raced in on goal, with the ‘Caps all at sea and seemingly having no answer to Chicago’s attack.
Both teams had some half chances to finish the half but there was no more scoring and Vancouver had a lot of thinking and regrouping to do.
A double substitution six minutes in saw Mezquida and Fredy Montero come on, and the Colombian nearly made an immediate impact, just failing to connect cleanly with a header on a long Bolanos ball into the box.
De Leeuw came close to making it four in the 56th minute when he made room for himself against Parker on a long ball, but Ousted may an unorthodox looking save to turn the ball around the post.
Ousted was forced to make a double save three minutes later, the first of a thumping long range curling Juninho free kick and then off Nikolic at his near post off the rebound.
The Dane was almost punished in the 64th minute he rashly came out of his box and weakly knocked the ball toward de Leeuw and the Dutchman tried to lob ball over Ousted and into the net, but Andrew Jacobson was back there to head the danger away.
Yordy Reyna came on for his first MLS minutes after a long injury layoff from the last preseason came. He showed what he can offer the team too in the 72nd minute with a low strike that forced Lampson to turn the ball around the post for a corner.
Montero tested Lampson, to a degree, from a long range effort of his own, but
Vancouver’s bad day got worse in the 78th minute when Laba was shown a straight red for a studs up challenge on the back of Luis Solignac’s leg and there was no complaints.
De Leeuw nearly punished the reduced numbers moments later when Nerwinski mistimed a header and allowed the Dutchman to race in goal but he took too long before firing well side from a good position.
Nikolic came within inches of grabbing his hat-trick with a shot that just went the wrong side of the left post, but Chicago did make it four just moments later, with six minutes of the match remaining, when the Hungarian played in De Leeuw and this time he finished a tougher chance to make it 4-0.
And that was it for the scoring and the action.
It was a game we felt could be a throwaway game for the ‘Caps. A chance to play some fringe guys, gets them some minutes, and have a look at them at this level. The fact that the ‘Caps capitulated so easily with a strong line up is certainly worrying. They threw the points away but gained little.
First few minutes aside, the first half performance was simply not acceptable and some individual players need to take a long. hard look at themselves for this one. The team cannot give up simple goals by not picking players up in the box. It’s a continuing trend that is showing no signs of abating.
Then you have the worrying aspect of the build up play to Chicago’s goal, where the ‘Caps allowed the Fire to knock the ball about as they pleased.
First Fire goal: 7-pass build-up
Third Fire goal: 15-pass build-up
They're pretty pretty pretty good. #CHIvVAN
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 1, 2017
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 2, 2017
Do that against good teams and you get punished heavily. The Whitecaps did and they were.
With New York City coming up on Wednesday before a short break then a tough summer schedule, Vancouver can’t afford to be left behind in the chase for the playoff places. In years past, they’ve been the ones with the points on the board, and not games in hand. This year it’s a different story.
They may have their injured players back, but now they need to rebuild some chemistry.
FINAL SCORE: Chicago Fire 4 – 0 Vancouver Whitecaps
CHICAGO: Matt Lampson; Matt Polster, Johan Kappelhof (Djordje Mihailovic 82), Joao Meira, Brandon Vincent; Michael de Leeuw, Bastian Schweinsteiger (Drew Conner 42), Juninho; Luis Solignac, Nemanja Nikolic, Arturo Alvarez (Jonathan Campbell 69) [Substitutes not used: Stefan Cleveland, Michael Harrington, Brandt Bronico, Daniel Johnson]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Jake Nerwinski, Andrew Jacobson, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey; Matías Laba; Cristian Techera, Christian Bolaños, Tony Tchani (Nicolás Mezquida 51), Brek Shea (Yordy Reyna 62); Bernie Ibini (Fredy Montero 51) [Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Erik Hurtado, Christian Dean, Mauro Rosales]
On losing to a side missing some key players but still having quality:
“They’re a good team. They took their chances. We made some basic fundamental errors that you can’t do against a good team. Arguably they’re the most form team at the moment, and you can see why. So credit to Chicago They deserved their three points today, but need to be better.”
On not taking advantage of a strong start:
“The game is about fine lines, but the first goal is usually crucial. Yeah. we had a chance before they scored but the first one’s a bad goal from our point of view, and the second. The third, then the fourth, we’re chasing but no complaints from me. They are the better team today. They deserve their three points and we need to go back to thinking about Wednesday.”
How do you contain a dangerous team like Chicago:
“We didn’t contain it today, so I can’t tell you how. The key players for them, Juninho and Bastian, they run the game. We tried to stop that, but once the first goal goes in, the dynamic of the game changes. Part of our gameplan is to stay in the game and we feel we can hurt them, and we did have chances. We didn’t take any, but they deserve a lot of credit today. They’re in form.”
What do you tell your team when you go in three goals down:
“Try and win the second half. Very rarely does a team that’s losing 3-0 come back to win the game. I wanted the next goal to make it interesting, and we had a couple of chances with Fredy when he came on, but as the game wore on, towards the latter part of the game, obviously it’s a counter attacking game. It was going to be us or them that scored the fourth goal, and credit to them, they did.”
What did he see from Nicolas Mezquida’s return?:
“Energy. Attitude and energy, and that’s what we didn’t have in the first half. We were there, we were running beside people, but we weren’t making contact. We were probably playing in second gear, as the old adage would put it. And we can’t do that. This league is very tight. So no points today. It is three points that we lost, but we need to learn from it.”
On Reyna’s debut:
“He nearly scored. We’re talking about three or four players that nearly scored. They were very clinical Chicago. Nice to get Yordy back. The plan was to play him for 30 minutes and he’s still nowhere near his fitness levels but you see what he brings. He brings a different type of play to our play, especially in the attacking areas, so nice to have him.”
Looking ahead to NYC on Wednesday:
“We just have to regroup. I’ll pick the best team that I think will win the game. I want competition for places. That’s really important because that brings out the best of players, but they’ll all be looking over their shoulders after today.”
On Laba’s red card:
“You know what, I haven’t seen it again. Usually I joke with the referee that when I play with this ref I play with ten men. If it’s a red card, it’s a red card, so no complaints, but disappointing, because at 3-0 down, it’s always hard. The easy thing to do is to make a silly challenge.”
On the team’s response coming off the U.S. Open cup loss on Wednesday:
“We had to work a lot on the mentality of the group and actually this win today helps us as a team to understand that everything we were saying and preaching that it’s possible. It was about the mentality, about how we rest, how we prepare and what we believe and today I think we shifted very well from the loss we had. Actually we lost on penalties which is different than if you would loss in a different way. For us it was very important to see that it’s possible to recover after 120 minutes in just a couple of days and perform like we performed today. Fantastic performance, fantastic mood, the mentality was great and that’s how the great teams play but we still have to work a lot to become a great team. We have to prove that now in the next game, Portland is going to be a great test for us and we have to keep the mentality we have now and play the way we played so far.”
On the team’s depth with David Accam and Dax McCarty out for international duty:
“Thank you for asking that question because I wanted to talk about Juninho today. I think he assumed the role especially when Basti had to go out, he assumed the role as the leader and dictating the game for us with the ball. Defensively he helped a lot, he recovered so much ground today and was very efficient with the ball. To answer your question, that was very important that we had Juninho assuming the role that Dax was doing for us and his participation on the field was fantastic. Now I think also the team understands that everyone at their 100 percent and are ready to give that on the field and the team will improve. I just think once we have this we have to keep it and the locker room is very happy because we can finally see that keeping this mentality working like this we can get to the first place. But, like I said before, we now have to be aware that we have to keep the mood and the good results in order to improve more and still keep working and working towards our goal which is in the playoff.”
On Bastian Schweinsteiger’s status for the Portland game:
“Basti, we still have to see how it goes, but we had to pull him out of the game because he felt a little bit of sharp soreness. So he was actually smart and when the result was 3-0 he asked for the substitution. I think we will see, we will evaluate in the next couple of days how he recovers and we expect him to be ready for Portland. But we will know Monday.”
On Michael de Leeuw’s first goal of the season and what it means for him and the club:
“So happy for him. We were talking for a long time now how important his work for the team, how important his assists for the team also. And today at the half I told him he has to count that assist as a goal also, the one he played the ball to Niko and it was obviously great execution from Niko. But he won that second ball, he intuitively knew where the ball was going to bounce and then he started to run in that space, great first touch and then great pass to Niko. At the half I told him ‘keep it up, your opportunity will come, just be ready.’ Then when he missed the first one I was like, ‘that was the one.’ But, he was consistent and so happy for him that he can finally could score a very important goal for us. We always appreciate in the locker room that we have to be hungry until the end and play, every game with an empty belly, and he has that especially cause he didn’t score. But today I’m so happy for him and I congratulate him and obviously to the team on a fantastic performance and great effort. But, now I have to be the party breaker and I want to just stop the euphoria because I think it’s important to know we still haven’t done anything. It’s great to hear that are stats are improving and our history also proves great numbers right now. We still have to know that this is only half of the season and we have a long way to go and a lot of games to play and win and that’s how have to think about the next game is the most important game.”
On Matt Polster’s performance and learning a new position at right back:
“I think his acceptance to play that role and that position which we always said you’re playing as a midfielder on the flank. It’s not that you’re playing a fullback like a classic old time fullback. We want you to participate, to be on the ball, to go inside, to cause problems for the opponents in terms with being on the ball and create a superiority and assist or even score goals which would be even better. So for us, when you have the ball you have to play, depending on the situation, and he understands now very well and accepted to play at that position but also understand that he can very useful and help the team attack. Which is something that is important for the style of play we have now.”
MICHAEL DE LEEUW
On scoring his first goal of the season:
“I feel good. Finally, you know? The monkey’s finally off my back, but I think it was an elephant. I’m happy with my goal but also with the points. It feels so good that I scored but the most important thing is that we killed the game really soon. It was great. I’m happy; happy with the result, happy with my goal.”
On being named Man of the Match:
“I think I played a good game. I had some chances, one ball was headed out at the line, also one chance that has to be a goal. I was feeling it today, and at the end it’s good that you score a goal. Sometimes, you just need a goal to open your account; let’s hope that it keeps flowing now.”
On winning after a midweek loss to FC Cincinnati:
“That’s big, the reaction. In the back of your head, you play 120 minutes, you lost in penalties, that’s hard mentally. If you see how quick we scored the goals and we ended their chance to win, because we were so dominant on the field, we were winning duels, creating a lot of chances. I think they also felt, ‘okay, they played Wednesday, 120 minutes.’ Right away, we killed them. That was a good feeling for us.”
On the lessons learned from Wednesday’s loss:
“We know what we lacked on Wednesday. We had chances. At that point, the longer the game went, the more they start believing in the game. We were better in that game, but in the end they deserved it, for them it was a great game. But we knew what we were lacking in the game.”
On the team’s reaction to his goal:
“That felt great, the support. I felt the guys were also feeling it, that I needed a goal. I felt the love from the guys, and that was great.”
On partnering with Nemanja Nikolic:
“When you have the ball on their half, you know Niko is always waiting on that line to go. He’s always like a predator, lurking to get that goal. He’s good at that. He’s got 16 goals man, he’s a killer. He’s doing it for us, so that’s great. We know his capabilities; I think we all adjust good to each other.”
On the match:
“I think we did very good. Missing a couple players, but we knew that it was going to be a good game for us, especially in front of our fans. They come here every single time, every single Saturday to support us so we can score the goals, and we gave what they want to see. I think our team did a good job managing the game and keeping scoring the goals. That’s very important for us. We’re first in the table, we have to keep it up.”
On the depth of the team:
“I think we have a very good group, very good, talented players in this group where in situations like this where you’re missing players, they have to step up. The opportunity was out there for them and they did a very good job. That’s the way, as a team, we have to continue. Looking forward for more kind of situations like this where we need to step up.”
On missing David Accam:
“Of course, David is a very important player for us but I think every player in the squad has motivation to show his ability. You see Arturo today had a chance from the coach and he played amazing, he scored a very good goal. So we miss David, because he’s a very important player for us, but of course the players who are on the pitch all the time, they want to improve and to help the team to achieve his goals and to win every game.”
On his scoring streak:
“I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Of course you will have games like me against Orlando, for example, against Cincinnati, I had a lot of opportunities to score, I missed. I think that you can miss the chances, but you cannot lose the belief in yourself. You need to keep doing the same things, you need to believe in yourself to try to be better every day and to help the team to progress. This is my goal. Of course, every game, your job is to score goals; now everybody expects from me, not just the players, the staff also, the supporters.”
On defenders adjusting to him:
“I also know them much better, so it’s easier. Of course, they will try to stop me, and I will try to be more sharp.”
On another big win at home:
“Not just the last two, I think that every game in Toyota Park, we played really good. I know a few games more, when we scored a lot of goals; against Seattle also, it was a really fantastic night, like today. It’s really good to see our fans come back to the stadium in big numbers, it’s very important. We have now their trust, they are behind us. This is just one plus for the team to progress and to be in this level.”