By Ernesto Hernandez
Coming off a disappointing loss midweek against the Portland Timbers, it only made sense to feel pessimistic with the Fire taking on the conference-leading Philadelphia Union. After all, the last time these two teams met, Philadelphia came out on top. But lately, Chicago seems to be full of surprises.
In a bit of an upset, the Chicago Fire beat the Philadelphia Union 2-0 at SeatGeek Stadium. First-half goals by Nemanja Nikolic proved to be enough for a Fire team that did well to limit the chances created by the Union. Even more impressive that they did it playing the second-half down a man after Nicolas Gaitan was sent off.
With the win, the Fire keep their playoff aspirations afloat and beat the best team in the East. This result is somewhat reminiscent to their 5-1 shellacking of Atlanta United earlier in the season, where it was difficult to see the Fire getting anything out that game. But the team stepped up and put in a good performance.
It is undoubtedly a confidence booster following the midweek loss. The backline played well as did Kenneth Kronholm. Kronholm has not kept a clean sheet in three of his last four games. Recall that David Ousted played in the midweek fixture.
Rumors have been swirling nearly all season that Nikolic is set to leave at the end of the season. He went hot and cold early on but is heating up at the best moment for the Fire. It was his fourth consecutive game scoring a goal. His brace upped his season goal tally to 11 and has now scored 50 career goals for Chicago.
Veljko Paunovic knows that every game is as must-win and he knows the importance of the win against the Union given the Portland result.
“We have to stay humble. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing so far, believing, and keep growing the spirit. The spirit of that locker room now is starting to really believe in a comeback that we are chasing right now. The chances are even now so we’re gonna keep working hard and grind the points we need to get to the playoffs,” Paunovic said.
The real test now awaits the Fire as their next two games are on the road against New England and Columbus. The former is a direct rival for a playoff spot and the latter managed a draw the last time they faced. They do not play another home game until the middle of September.
Their performances on the road need to improve. If they can replicate a similar performance like the one shown against the Union and apply it on the road, this team has a very realistic chance of making the postseason.