Facing potent NY attack, Fire attempt to break worrying trend

Fire defense looks to halt recent struggles

Dan Gargan

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Deficits meant little to the Chicago Fire early this season.

Sure, players lamented giving up early goals, but the Fire lost only three of their first 11 games despite conceding the first goal in eight of those contests.

That narrative shifted in the week leading up to the international break. The Fire lost three times in eight days, twice in regular season play and once in a US Open Cup loss to the Michigan Bucks. In all three matches, Chicago allowed the first goal.

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“We’ve got a lot of good characters on the team that are fueled to get that goal back,” defender Austin Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “But we can’t always rely on that fuel, because the last few games we weren’t able to get that goal back. We need to have that mentality from the beginning.”

Fire players scraped whatever positives they could out of a 2-0 loss to New England on June 2. Chicago hit the post twice before defensive lapses in the 69th and 73rd minutes let the Revs take the victory.

“We had a good, strong 70 minutes, and we could be up two, three-nothing,” defender Dan Gargan told MLSsoccer.com. “Then we had a few lapses in the back and we were down 2-0.”

The Fire defense struggled mightily during the three-game stretch leading up to the two-week break, giving up seven goals in the two games.

The inexperienced center back pairing of Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba will have a slight reprieve on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls (4 pm CT, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Chicago will not have to face legendary striker Thierry Henry, who will remain in New York nursing a calf strain. But the Fire will still have to cope with league-leading goalscorer Kenny Cooper.

“It’s just about communicating and keeping the back four intact, not trying to do anything out of the ordinary, keep organized,” Berry said. “The communication is going to be key, staying compact in the back four.”

German center back Arne Friedrich has targeted Sunday for his return, but his prognosis doesn’t look promising. That leaves Berry and Anibaba to deal with a New York attack that has scored the second-most goals in the league.

If the Fire can finally score first, which they’ve done only twice this season, the pressure on those two may ease.

“We’ve kind of been all over the place with good starts or good middle thirds, or even 70, 80 minute stretches,” Gargan said. “It’s been a great thing for us to claw out of a lot of those holes, but you can’t always do that.”