Fire topple Union 1-0, but challenges remain in season’s second half

Federico Navarro scored the game’s only goal, helping the Fire beat the top team in the Eastern Conference.

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Chris Mueller and the Fire beat the Union 1-0, but still have plenty of work to do in the second half of the season.

Chris Mueller and the Fire beat the Union 1-0, but still have plenty of work to do in the second half of the season.

Courtesy of the Fire

The last thing the Fire needed was a potentially season-ending injury to one of their most important players. But defender Wyatt Omsberg tearing ligaments in his left foot is just the latest hurdle the team has faced.

To make something of their season, the Fire will have to overcome that adversity. And that’s just one of the places they’ve struggled in 2022.

Before Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, the Fire were last in MLS at 0.88 points per match and tied for the fewest points with 14. They made some progress against the East-leading Union, going ahead on Federico Navarro’s 68th minute goal after clever work from attacker Chris Mueller.

The uphill climb, though, is just beginning for the Fire. And the loss of Omsberg is just the newest obstacle.

“As a part of the defense, as my teammate next to me, he’s really important for me and for the whole defense,” captain Rafael Czichos said last week. “I think he’s been [having] a really good season so far. Yeah, that he’s injured now, obviously is bad for us but I think we will find a good solution to replace him.”

The Fire do have some options to make up for Omsberg’s absence in Carlos Teran, Mauricio Pineda and Jonathan Bornstein. Figuring out how to get by without Omsberg, however, is one of many issues as the season reaches the halfway point.

Per American Soccer Analysis, the Fire’s expected point total entering Wednesday was 21, a number that would’ve placed them within two points of the Eastern Conference playoff line. Though that statistic isn’t ironclad, it shows that the Fire are capable of controlling play and creating chances.

One of the problems is converting those opportunities into goals. Perhaps the best example of the Fire’s deficiency in that area came May 28, when they outshot Toronto FC 33-5 but still managed to lose 3-2.

“I think the best game we’ve played so far was the game in Toronto,” Czichos said. “We had a lot of possession. We were really aggressive. We had a lot of chances, I think the most chances in the season so far but the problem was the result.”

The Fire defense, which was strong to begin the season, has turned error-prone. In their first game after Omsberg’s surgery, the Fire trailed 1-0 late in the first half at Houston when four players couldn’t deal with an innocent-looking cross before allowing the Dynamo’s Darwin Quintero to double their lead.

Nothing like that happened Wednesday, though Philadelphia might’ve had a legitimate argument for a stoppage-time penalty after a challenge by the Fire’s Jonathan Bornstein.

Facing one of the league’s best teams, the Fire generally had the upper hand but couldn’t convert until Navarro scored his first of the season. Before that, Philadelphia had a chance to take the lead in the 47th minute, but Fire goalie Gabriel Slonina repelled a close-range header from the Union’s Cory Burke. The Union, who had a day fewer of rest than the Fire, went down to 10 men in the 73rd minute when Jose Martinez received his second yellow card.

The Fire then killed off the remainder of the match, winning for the second time in three tries after a 10-game MLS winless streak.

NOTE: Andre Reynolds II made his first career MLS start, replacing Miguel Navarro (health and safety protocols). Like Navarro, Pineda is in the protocol.

Torres (left hip) was absent as well.

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