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Fire’s defensive issues costly in loss to Sounders

The Fire's Nicolas Hasler and Seattle's Jordan Morris compete for the ball during Saturday's game. | Courtesy of Chicago Fire Soccer Club

The Fire need more reinforcements than Nicolas Gaitan.

That showed Saturday.

During their 4-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders in front of an announced crowd of 10,032 at SeatGeek Stadium, the Fire were punished for defensive shortcomings that are one reason they have just one point in their first three games.

Gaitan is an accomplished, creative player who will aid the attack, not help the Fire stop their opponents. His debut date is unclear.

After the match, the Fire (0-2-1) were careful to stress how all the goals weren’t the result of their back line, but it’s clear they know their next signing has to be a defensive one.

“Probably, yes, but I think that’s something that we are aware of and we are working on” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “As we’ve said in the past, it’s not easy to sign players. We are working on that. We are aware, and I agree we have to fix our defense.”

The Fire were unable to contain the Sounders (3-0-0). Mistakes and giveaways led to a 3-0 deficit that the Fire almost erased thanks to second-half goals from substitutes Raheem Edwards and Fabian Herbers. But the defensive issues and lack of depth and balance were too much to overcome.

“When you look at our goals [allowed],” Paunovic said, “sometimes it’s after the [ball is lost], after individual mistakes we make in the midfield, after some misunderstandings in the back line, or it could be also in the communication between the lines, the whole team. Obviously, it’s not good. It’s not good at all, but we will keep working and try to fix it.”

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Since last season, the Fire have made significant offensive additions in Przemysław Frankowski, C.J. Sapong, and now Gaitan. But losing Brandon Vincent to a surprising retirement and Matt Polster to Scottish club Rangers and missing out on signing potential homegrown defender Andrew Gutman hurt their defensive depth and quality.

With Jorge Corrales suspended because of a red card, the Fire started unproven Nicolas Hasler at left back. He struggled against the Sounders’ Jordan Morris and was replaced by a surprised Edwards in the 35th minute in an unusually early tactical change.

“Obviously, the team needed something,” said Edwards, who was recalled from the USL and had been dealing with a hamstring issue. “They called upon me, and I tried to do my best on the pitch.”

Edwards did his part, but the overall defensive problems need to be solved.

“It’s not always the defense,” midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “The whole team has to [work] against the ball quite well, and then it’s easier to defend. We have to keep working on it, and that’s all that we can do.”

NOTE: The Fire were without midfielder Aleksandar Katai, who missed the game with a groin issue. CJ Sapong started in his place.