From the Jaws of a Draw: Fire defeat Inter Miami CF
The Fire defeated Inter Miami for their first victory of the season, courtesy of a Kei Kamara goal in stoppage time to get us to our final score of 3-2. The Fire became the first visitors to leave Miami getting points this season, and were actually the first team to score on Callender at home. The Fire return to Chicago with a 1-2-1 record, their only defeat coming when they were down to 10 men for a prolonged period in Philadelphia. The team has a decent record, as the team have a game-in-hand over every Eastern Conference opponent except last-place Montréal.
Yet somehow, the victory doesn't taste as sweet as it might have. Vince Lombardi may have thought winning is everything, but in a long season, how the team wins - and what that says about the rest of the season - also matter. Until Kamara's late winner, the narrative was an all too familiar one for Fire fans: The team started off well, going up 2-0 before failing to shut the door and letting Miami score in the last play of the first half.
The reinvigorated home team came out of the second half on a mission, and the Fire bunkered down, switching into a 5-4-1 and letting Miami hold most of the possession. Less than a minute after switching out winger Maren HaIle-Selassie for newly-signed defender Alonso Aceves, with the team bunkered in a 5-4-1, Nicolás Stefanelli scored for Miami tying the game at 2. The script felt all too familiar to Fire fans, having just seen this play out last week: A promising 2-goal lead carried into the later stages of a match turning into a probable draw.
Ultimately, Kei Kamara was able to change the storyline from last week, and the team was able to score 3 goals for in consecutive matches for the first time ever under head Coach Ezra Hendrickson, but the issues core issues with the team we've seen so far this season remain.
The fact is that Miami's lineup was severely depleted, to the extent that they had to bring in players from their MLS Next Pro club on short-term deals. The team the Fire played last night was missing it's captain (and heart of it's defensive line), as Gregore is out for several months with an injury (and several other players including young DP Leo Campana are also on the injured list), and Miami was also missing their two most talented strikers in Josef Martínez and Robert Taylor, both gone on international duty.
While the Fire faithful can counter that they're missing both DPs due to injury along with starting left back Miguel Navarro to international duty, some Fire fans have already been grumbling that the team plays better without the DPs on the pitch, and not entirely without cause (though given his injury troubles, if DP Jairo Torres had to be assigned al etter grade, it'd still just be an "incomplete.").
Many of the questions around the Fire were not settled with this victory. Although Kacper Przybylko now has a goal and an assist in his last two matches, once again, the team took on an entirely different - and better - offensive character when he was subbed off in favor of Kamara. Offseason acquisition Arnaud Souquet has looked lost several times during key defensive moments in the past two games. And the team's decision to bunker down in a tied match - explained by Hendrickson as a step the team took because they wanted to make sure they didn't lose the game - nearly did just that.
There are some real positives - Carlos Terán is a much better player than he was last year. He's been better both defensively and on the attack, and now looks ready to combine good judgment along with the athleticism that he put on display when he scored the Fire's second goal, and homegrown Brian Gutiérrez is making a clear case for keeping the starting job at central attacking midfielder even after Shaqiri's return from injury. And, of course, Chris Mueller is showing why he's a fan favorite in Chicago. If the Fire can continue to build off of those positives, and if Hendrickson continues to show more tactical flexibility than he did in his freshman year as a head coach, the team will likely do a better job at turning good play for stretches of matches into actual results and points.