When the final whistle blew in the nation’s capital this past Saturday night, many Chicago Fire players wanted to celebrate the team’s first win of the season on the pitch. After all, the Fire had never won at Audi Field before.
However, with D.C. temperatures below freezing, celebrations on the field quickly moved inside where warm temperatures and celebrations of the club’s best start since 2009 awaited.
“You saw ice and snow on [the field] a little bit,” Fire defender Wyatt Omsberg said. “It was really cold and with the wind…not the greatest conditions for soccer. But we knew it was going to be a battle and we knew we had to roll up our sleeves and work hard for 90 minutes and I think we did that.”
That “rolling up the sleeves” mantra was mentioned by head coach Ezra Hendrickson himself just a few minutes before Omsberg’s comment. “There are some games where the elements are such that you have to roll up your sleeves and just battle,” Hendrickson said.
The consistency in the answers piqued my interest. It seems Hendrickson’s mentality, mindset, and messages are all quickly being adopted by his players, bringing out a fight we have not seen from this club in some time.
“It was good to see that we are a team that can battle when we need to and that we’re not just a nice, pretty soccer-playing team,” Hendrickson continued. “We’re a team that, if it calls for it, we can fight.”
Before Saturday’s victory, Hendrickson warned of D.C. United’s aggressive pressing style. That press certainly caused some issues in the first half as sloppy giveaways led to a couple of golden opportunities for the home team.
While mistakes happen, there was also an inexcusable lack of effort by Gastón Giménez, which should have led to the first goal of the evening for D.C. When asked if he acknowledged this lack of effort, Hendrickson spoke about how he dealt with it at halftime.
“We spoke about that at halftime, not just Gastón. We felt like, a lot of times in the first half, we lost the ball and we just didn’t put in the effort to win it back right away.”
Hendrickson continued, “So we talked about that at halftime and we addressed it. I thought we did well with that in the second half. That immediate chase [for the ball] is something that we adjusted at halftime and it was good to see the guys went out and really put in the effort for the last 45.”
The Fire did have a much better second half as they not only increased their effort, but simply lost the ball against the D.C. press less and less as the game went on. Giménez specifically had an excellent second half with some even saying his performance was man-of-the-match worthy.
Hendrickson constructively criticized his players and they responded in kind. That is a simple indicator of an effective man-manager.
Hendrickson brought on a pair of substitutions in the 71st minute. One of them was veteran Jonathan Bornstein, but the left-back did not replace starting left-back Miguel Navarro.
Instead, Bornstein came in for right-winger and goal-scorer Stanislav Ivanov and played as a left-winger, leaving many to scratch their heads.
Less than 10 minutes later, Bornstein took a clever pass from Gastón Giménez and struck the ball like a world-class striker, giving the Fire a 2-0 lead. On Tap asked Hendrickson about his thought process that led to bringing on Bornstein in a more advanced role.
“I thought at the moment at the time of the game being up 1-0 on the road, it was the right move for the team because they were starting to get control of the game, especially coming down our left side.”
Hendrickson continued, “I know Jonathan is a very good defender, so I thought he would come in and help short it up that side for a little bit.”
The move worked out for all parties involved as Hendrickson won his first game as a head coach and Bornstein scored his first goal in over two years.
Having players willing to come on and do anything to help the team win is absolutely necessary for any club to succeed. With a player and leader like Bornstein finding success doing just that, Hendrickson’s mindset, mentality, and message will all be further cemented into this team’s psyche.
“We always preach this is going to be a team effort,” Hendrickson said. “Every man, from man 1 to man 30 is going to be very important…From game to game, player to player, you will be called upon to do certain tasks, and I’m very confident in these players that whatever task you ask of them, they will come in and do.”
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