During the 63rd minute of the Fire’s game Saturday against the Galaxy, striker Kacper Przybylko was sprung by a pass from midfielder Gaston Gimenez. With winger Stanislav Ivanov to his left and only Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond to beat, Przybylko tried to go around the goalie but was unable to get off a shot or a pass before Bond claimed the ball and ended the threat.
That moment in the 0-0 tie was a microcosm of the Fire’s offensive woes, which have gotten worse without midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri. They aren’t creating many chances and aren’t converting when they are.
”We’re happy that we kept the clean sheet again,” captain Rafael Czichos said after the game. ”But we have to work on our game [on] offense.”
Entering their game Saturday at Minnesota United, the Fire have been shut out five times, including the last two with Shaqiri out with a calf injury, plus the game April 2 during which he went down. While they’ve established themselves as perhaps the best defensive team in Major League Soccer by allowing a league-low two goals, their MLS-worst five goals have prevented them from converting that stinginess into victories.
Beyond the scarcity of goals, the Fire (2-1-4, 10 points) aren’t doing much to trouble opponents. According to FBref, the game against the Galaxy — in which they registered 0.4 expected goals — was the sixth time the Fire have come in under two in the stat that measures the quality of chances and the likelihood they’ll produce a goal. And in the two full games Shaqiri has missed, the Fire have generated 0.8 expected goals combined.
”It’s about patience and just making sure that the guys continue to believe in themselves, believe in the people that we have here currently, the people who are on the pitch, because we have what it takes to score some goals,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said Saturday. ”It’s just a matter of doing that and just being a little bit more clinical, having a little bit more quality in the final third. But that will come. That’s an easy fix.”
How well the fixes work remains to be seen. And the issues go beyond the absence of Shaqiri, whose four full matches saw the Fire average only 1.4 expected goals.
Przybylko’s two goals came in one game and he missed a penalty during the Fire’s shootout loss to Union Omaha in the US Open Cup, Ivanov’s impact has been minimal and hyped prospect Jhon Duran has struggled to earn minutes. Young attacker Brian Gutierrez showed flashes before he was suspended for the Galaxy game after picking up two yellow cards during the Fire’s 1-0 loss April 9 at Orlando City.
The Fire hope the attack picks up when Shaqiri returns to full fitness and reaches another level when winger Jairo Torres arrives in May. But if the offense doesn’t click then, the Fire’s strong defensive mindset will go only so far.
”Well, it’d be nice to get Shaq back on the pitch,” Hendrickson said. ”We have some reinforcements coming. Torres will be here in a couple of weeks, [so] that will also help. But I think we have the players now to be better on the attack.”