The Chicago Fire began their 2021 campaign with a 2-2 draw at home against the New England Revolution, extending their streak of consecutive winless matches on opening day to 12, tied with Colorado for most in MLS history. The Fire’s last opening day win was a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas in 2009.
Two players Chicago will rely heavily on this year are Slovenian national, Robert Berić, and playmaking midfielder Álvaro Medrán. After the MLS season resumed in August of 2020, Berić recorded ten goals, tying him with Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz for most in the league since the restart. Medrán, the Fire’s number ten, led the team with six assists and becomes even more vital to Chicago’s attack after they traded Djordje Mihailovic to Montreal FC.
Berić played well tonight, finishing with one goal and one assist. He was, by far, Chicago’s most consistent threat on the attack. Medrán, however, was completely neutralized by New England and failed to find any space in midfield. Defenders knocked him off the ball on more than one occasion and it was clear the Revolution’s game plan was to be physical with Medrán.
Teal Bunbury, Gustavo Buo, and Adam Buska accounted for 23 Revolution goals last season, so the Fire knew one of the keys to tonight’s match was to make sure they were kept in check. Nevertheless, two of the three, Buska and Buo, were able to find success, combining for two goals on the night. Buska particulary stood out as Chicago had no answer for the 6-foot-3 Polish forward who used his height to dominate in the air on multiple set pieces.
Berić wasted no time finding the back of the net, putting the Fire up 1-0 in the fifth minute after a nice combination play from Chicago’s midfield, culminating in Boris Sekulic finding Berić for an easy tap-in. Four minutes later, Luka Stojanovic gave the home team a 2-0 advantage off a beautiful assist from none other than Berić. New England looked to be in complete disarray on the backline as the Fire were relentless in their attack.
But in the 14th minute, the visitors pulled one back when a perfectly placed corner kick by Carles Gil found Buska who buried a header past Chicago keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. New England then tied it the 27th minute as Tajon Buchanan outworked Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein for positioning on the right wing, sending a cross into the box which the aforementioned Buo put away.
In a roller coaster first half, the home team went from cloud nine to complete frustration as players could be heard bickering with one another on the field after seeing their two-goal lead disappear. From that point forth, New England was in complete control of possession and the run of play, nearly taking the lead in the 37th minute if not for a great save from Shuttleworth and then again in the 41st minute when Gil sent a bender just wide of the post.
Fire Put the Clamps on Gil
The Fire came out of the locker room and placed a target on Gil’s back, determined to stop New England’s playmaker from dictating the pace. Only a few minutes into the second half, Gil had to come off the pitch and receive attention from the Revolution’s training staff after a hard foul from Stojanovic. Their plan worked as Chicago dominated possession in the second half, regaining momentum and forcing New England to sit back.
Unfortunately, the Fire had nothing to show for their efforts besides a few semi-decent chances. It appeared as if the visitors were intent on playing for a tie. But, in the 87th minute, New England made a late push and should have taken the lead when substitute Edward Kizza found himself wide open in the six-yard box for an easy header which he sent off the crossbar.
The Fire had one last chance with 60 seconds remaining as Przemyslaw Frankowski earned a free kick just outside the box, but Gastón Giménez failed to convert and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
Man of the Match
Man of the match goes to Berić who scored the Fire’s first goal and assisted on the second. He was Chicago’s only real threat on offense and excelled tonight despite not having much support up front.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Fire hit the road to square off against Atlanta United next Saturday, April 24th. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM CT and the game will air locally on WGN-TV in addition to ESPN+ stream for out-of-market viewers. As always, you can check out the latest Fire content, articles, and more at Second City On Tap.