Dispatch: Chicago Fire (2) at Philadelphia Union (1)
OTF’s Lucas Hammer examines the Fire’s 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union…
After conceding the first goal in 16 of the last 20 matches, the Fire came in with a desperate need to strike first against Philadelphia, who they had been unsuccessful in scoring a goal against so far this year. Finally, for once, that’s exactly what happened.
The first 8 minutes of the match displayed an intensity that has been extremely lacking in many matches this year. Chicago came out swinging and their efforts paid off, resulting in a Magee-to-Rolfe-to-Magee-to-Lindpere-to-Nyarko goal in the ninth minute of play. Seeing the Fire attackers being able to connect a string of passes to result in good finishing was the highlight of the night, and for me, the highlight of the season. Too many goals haven’t involved enough players to explain away “good luck.”
The Fire kept the pressure on Philadelphia’s defense, but Philadelphia began to attack more as the first half moved forward. In the 25th minute, Bakary Soumare made a saving deflection that, if he hadn’t already done it, would’ve proved that he came to Chicago to play. From that moment until the halftime whistle blew, it was a back-and-forth match where both sides seemed dangerous on counterattacks, but the Fire ended the first 45 with a well-deserved lead.
The second half started about where it left off, with both teams creating chances, but nobody being able to put one on frame and no real threats to the keepers. The shots were high and wide, and the crosses didn’t have anyone on the end of them.
That is, until the 54th minute, when Sébastien Le Toux slid behind Jalil Anibaba, receiving a very well-placed pass, and forcing Sean Johnson to make a save with his foot that had me clapping and cheering in my living room. The Fire answered quickly with Chris Rolfe sending a shot in that Zach MacMath did well to push over the crossbar.
Shortly after, in the 60th minute, a questionable call against Soumare against Jack McInerney, who shoved off of Soumare while falling awkwardly, led to a free kick that bit the Fire in the ass — a scene which is all too familiar to Fire fans the last couple of years, leaving the match tied 1-1.
Philadelphia kept battling, forcing save after save between the 64th and 66th minute, with incredible defensive moves by both Sean Johnson and Alex. After multiple set pieces, the Fire finally found a reprieve when a shot went wide, allowing breathing room and a double substitution.
Plenty of people have accused Frank Klopas of playing for a tie in away games, but this game he seemed to try to prove them all wrong. Taking off the eventually ineffective Chris Rolfe and Joel Lindpere for Quincy Amarikwa and Dilly Duka; the latter pair showed a will to play for the win that the Fire so desperately needed.
Missed chances were the story for the following seven minutes, marking the transition to the drama-filled final 15 minutes. Danny Paladini came on in another offensive-minded move by Klopas. Almost immediately after, although seemingly unrelated, Chicago would prove they came to win with a steal by Nyarko, followed by a beautiful cross to “Magic Mike” Magee, who made sure to bury it in the upper 90, giving the Fire a 2-1 lead in the waning moments of the second half.
Bad calls continued through the end of the game, including a confusing call against Duka in the corner during the 85th minute. The Fire had one final, horrifying moment as the ball fell for Philadelphia’s Amobi Okugo, who was unlucky not to bury it, sending the ball far and wide on an open shot from inside the 18-yard box.
Five minutes of stoppage time seemed a little more than generous, but the Fire battled until the last moment, including a final showdown between Dilly Duka and Antoine Hoppenot in the box, resulting in Hoppenot hitting the ground and the Fire defense telling him to get up. The ref was having none of it, and Sean Johnson sent the ball to midfield for the final kick of the game.
Analysis (Term Used Loosely)
Chris Rolfe may not be doing well as far as goal-scoring goes, but he has been essential in creating plays (recently, at least), playing defensively in the midfield, and tiring out opposing defenses. His ability to come back and help in the midfield and defense has been key to the Fire’s turnaround this year. Again, his ability to do this was facilitated by Magee taking over up top, allowing Rolfe more freedom to move where he’s needed.
Soumare has continued to make the difference in the back, providing the experienced anchor that Anibaba and Berry both do well to play off of, strengthening the defense to a level reminiscent of last year when Arne Friedrich filled that role.
Magee continues to be Magee and, even more than his scoring ability, his intensity in motivating the rest of the offense is slowly spreading throughout the team. Passes are starting to string together, and goals are a result of that.
Finally, Frank Klopas came to win. Regardless of the reason up to this point, the Gaffer realizes that the playoffs are within reach, but hoping for draws during away games won’t be enough to pull it off this year. If this style of coaching continues through the end, Chicago just might end this rough 2013 season on a high note.
Chicago went to Philadelphia to bring back three points, and they fought all 90 minutes to do it. It still wasn’t the prettiest win, but any game where Chicago doesn’t trail their opponent is a good game as far as I’m concerned. The Fire have two games in the next week, both of which are vital to their success. They host D.C. United on Wednesday for a spot in the U.S. Open Cup finals, a game where they’ll take on a team with nothing to lose; DCU will try to win the only silverware they have a chance for this year. Following that is another home match against a continually-dangerous Montreal side that has proven time and time again this year they are not to be underestimated. However, the road version of L’Impact can be had lately.
Chicago still has a shot at the playoffs, and as the end of the season draws closer and closer, every match will become a must-win, especially against Eastern Conference teams. On Saturday night, for example, Chicago drew within six points of Philadelphia, with two games in hand, slowly but steadily making themselves more and more of a playoff contender as the season begins its final stretch over the next couple of months.
OTF’s Lucas Hammer lives in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago and tailgates with a stockpot full of Hamm’s. Follow Lucas @lucas_hammer.