Shaqiri shines as Chicago Fire torch Vancouver Whitecaps for 3-1 win

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VANCOUVER — A split focus may have been the undoing of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

Coming into a game against the Chicago Fire at B.C. Place, the 'Caps had an opportunity to inch closer to a playoff position in Major League Soccer's Western Conference.

At the same time, the club knew another big test looms — a matchup with Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final on Tuesday.

While Toronto took a dominant 4-0 victory in league play on Saturday, the Whitecaps (7-10-5) dropped an ugly 3-1 decision to the surging Fire (7-10-5).

"Tonight was our worst performance of the season," said Vanni Sartini, Vancouver's head coach. "And we take full ownership, I take full ownership of the not-good performance.

"I don't know. Maybe (it was) the final, maybe wrong choices by us as a staff for the lineup today, maybe five million things we'll analyze. But (Chicago) goes away with the three points and they deserve it."

The Fire took control of the game early and dominated 60.9 per cent of the possession. The visitors outshot the 'Caps 16-8, and 4-3 in on-target shots.

The Whitecaps simply weren't ready when the game started, said defender Marcus Godinho.

“You're obviously looking forward to the (Voyageur) Cup game, but I think too many guys were just looking at that. I mean, this was a huge opportunity for us," he said.

"The Cup, of course, you want to win the Cup. But getting into the playoffs is important as well. And we had the opportunity to really close that gap today and unfortunately too many guys weren't there, weren't at it today.”

Chicago's Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri led with a goal and an assist, lifting the Fire to their third straight win. Chris Mueller and Rafael Czichos also scored.

Lucas Cavallini had the lone goal for a Whitecaps side that sat four points below the playoff bar in the MLS Western Conference after league play concluded Saturday.

Twenty-year-old Canadian goalkeeper Isaac Boehmer made his second straight start for Vancouver and registered one save. Chicago's Gabriel Slonina stopped two of three on-target shots.

“We need to be better all around. And I think it starts with the focus," said 'Caps midfielder Russell Teibert. "I think we need to be dialed in from minute one to minute 97. And I think we as a group, we need to learn from this as quickly as possible.”

Chicago sealed the deal at 3-1 in the 90th minute when Mueller placed a right-footed shot in the top-right corner of the Vancouver net. Shaqiri registered an assist on the play.

The Fire broke a 1-1 stalemate in the 76th minute when Mueller delivered a ball deep into the Vancouver box and Czichos rose about the Vancouver defenders to put a header in past Boehmer with his third goal of the season.

Gauld nearly gave the home side a lead a minute earlier, splitting the Chicago defence at the top of the box and sprinting in. Slonina came far out of the net to smother the ensuing shot.

Vancouver scored the equalizer in the 54th minute following a solid passing sequence.

Godinho collected a ball along the sideline and sent it into Gauld at the top of the box. The Scottish attacking midfielder got a quick touch off to Cavallini down low who jumped up and sent a left-footed shot past the Chicago 'keeper to make it 1-1.

The goal was Cavallini's seventh of the season, marking the most he's scored in his third MLS season.

The first half was an ugly one for the 'Caps, who struggled to hang on to the ball and saw their defence repeatedly dismantled by the visitors.

At halftime, Sartini told his team he didn't like the performance.

"We wanted to be a little bit more aggressive, and to be honest, we did the first 25 to 30 minutes of the second half. We were the best team, but it's the only moment," he said. "For 60 minutes, (Chicago) were the best team."

The home side came close in first half injury time when Pedro Vite sent a cross in to Cavallini directly in front of the Fire net as the Canadian striker directed it on goal, only to see Slonina leap on top of the ball in a diving stop.

Chicago nearly took a 2-0 advantage in the 38th minute following another defensive breakdown that allowed Brian Gutierrez a chance to get a good shot off. The ball ricocheted off the post and hit Vancouver's Godinho in the midsection before bouncing just wide of the net.

"“Honestly, as it kind of bounced off, I was just hoping that I kind of guided it as much as I could away. But I got lucky to be honest with you," Godinho said. "It was a scary moment for me.”

The Fire opened scoring in the 13th minute after Navarro fed Shaqiri at the top of the box and the Swiss international sent a low shot rolling past Boehmer's outstretched fingers.

It was Shaqiri's team-leading fourth goal of the season. He also has eight assists on the year.

Vancouver came within inches of an early goal when Julian Gressel sent a ball soaring into Cristian Dajome inside the Chicago box. Dajome unleashed a blast but his shot rang off the post.

Gressel was making his debut for the 'Caps after being acquired from D.C. United last week. He played 45 minutes and was replaced by Gauld to start the second half.

Vancouver will return to MLS action next Saturday when they visit Nashville SC.

FOOTNOTES: Boehmer made his first start at B.C. Place. … An announced crowd of 14,984 took in Vancouver's ninth annual Pride match. … Saturday marked the Whitecaps' first loss in a Pride match. The club has a 7-1-1 record when hosting the occasion, going back to 2013.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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