Dispatch: Chicago Fire (3) vs. New England Revolution (2)
OTF’s Adam Morgan riffs on the high and low points at Toyota Park this weekend…
On Saturday evening, Chicago Fire leapt into a playoff spot for the first time in 2013. Somehow, the Men in Red overcame controversy, gaffes, missed chances, and a rather cynical opponent to earn all three points, thereby putting themselves in position to make a postseason run.
The atmosphere at Toyota Park was electric. Over 17,000 fans were treated to a dramatic spectacle with more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan thriller. And while the end result is exactly what Chicago Fire needed, not everything went their way.
It all started with a freak accident. A bad omen. Minutes before kickoff, a large object shot into the press box and slammed against the windows behind two rows of stunned journalists. It was a bird. A Mourning Dove, to be precise. The evening’s first “casualty,” remarked Fire Confidential’s Guillermo Rivera.
And then during the player introductions, Bakary Soumare was met with a sizable contingent of boos from his own fans/muppets, who are about as happy with Baky these days as Statler and Waldorf are with Fozzie Bear.
After Soumare’s inane behavior last week and a string of disappointing results versus Houston, Seattle, and Toronto, the Toyota Park crowd on Saturday night was hushed at kickoff, apprehensive. And then something horrible happened.
A mere eight minutes into the match, Revolution midfielder and professional turf-lounger Kelyn Rowe lobbed the ball up and over Sean Johnson from 20 yards out to put New England ahead. For the gazillionth time this season, the Men Red conceded a soft early goal. Spirits were down. Suddenly, “business as usual” was exactly what many of the Fire faithful were fearing.
But surrendering wasn’t part of the plan. Not 12 minutes later, Joel Lindpere, playing his usual role of aging, virtually-immobile-but-still-accurate sniper, like Ed Harris in Enemy at the Gates, perfectly threaded an assist through not one, not two, but three Revolution players. Juan Luis Anangonó, having finally started ahead of the struggling Chris Rolfe, playing like the DP he is meant to be, controlled the pass and muscled it past Revolution’s second-string keeper Bobby Shuttleworth to make the game even at 1-1.
From there, the game started to get ugly. New England, in their quest to become the San Jose Earthquakes of the Eastern Conference, resorted to a variety of shoves, pulls, holds, and dives to keep and win possession. The officiating was no better, as a blatant handball by Imbongo went uncalled after negating a brilliant header from Anangonó that would have otherwise resulted in a Chicago goal.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the officiating crew also failed to announce any stoppage time to the players, coaches, or Toyota Park at the end of the first half. As such, the game should have ended precisely at the 45-minute mark. But it didn’t. Instead, after a second Imbongo handball, the always-classy Saer Sene beat all four Fire defenders and fired a laser past Sean Johnson, putting the Revolution ahead 2-1 going into the half. Sene won no admirers in Toyota Park thereafter, when he spent so much time gloating and taunting the Fire faithful with outstretched arms that his own coaches were screaming for him to stop and get back on the field. No yellow for time-wasting, though. Not in this game.
After the half, New England favored the Windsock Man brand of soccer, whereby every ball or call that doesn’t go their way is met with 22 arms akimbo. Luckily, no amount of self-righteous whining could stop or erase Mike Magee’s goal in the 55th minute, thanks to an NBA-style screen from Juan Luis Anangono that might, maybe, just a little bit, be considered obstruction.
Around the 60-minute mark, predictably, Frank Klopas appeared to continue his trend of illogical, tactically inept “substitutions for the sake of substitutions,” by taking two of the Fire’s most productive players off the field (Joel Lindpere and Juan Luis Anangono). But this time, whatever Olympian gods or Delphic oracles Frank calls upon for substitution advice picked a winner in Alex Monteiro de Lima. That, or a broken watch is right at least two times a day.
Alex channeled his inner Adam Moffat and blasted a long ball through what appeared to be all 11 Revolution players in the 86th minute to seal a Chicago victory.
In the locker room after the game, Klopas’s kids engaged in the time-honored Greek tradition of breaking dinnerware. And while the signature, heroic win will do wonders to re-energize the Fire and their fanbase, several questions remain after Saturday night’s performance:
1) Will the Fire be able to maintain their current position in the Eastern Conference? To do so, they’ll have to continue to win consistently over the next month and a half. The six-game schedule is certainly manageable, but if the Fire have proved to be anything in 2013, it’s inconsistent.
2) If they do sneak into the playoffs, do they have enough talent and leadership to make it beyond the play-in game? If not, is another quick exit after a roller coaster season enough to keep this coaching staff intact for 2014?
3) How much longer will this team’s breaks make up for its mistakes? The Fire were lucky to escape with their lives on Saturday after a plethora of defensive gaffes. Bakary Soumare, true to his character, lost possession fairly often thanks to lazy clearances and aimless long balls. Austin Berry, apparently channeling his fellow center back, carried the ball way too far upfield on one particularly maddening occasion, only to turn it over and get beat on the counter-attack (luckily, this time it didn’t result in an opponent’s goal). Both Fire center backs are tall, powerful defenders who are very good at making hard tackles and winning the ball in the air. But neither of them is very adept at distributing the ball forward. Traditionally, a good center back pairing consists of a large, strong winner and a deft, creative distributor. Chicago has two of the former and none of the latter.
This week, circumstances kept the Fire’s shortcomings from costing the team points. But as we’ve seen in 2013, this team typically plays to the level of its competition, and the chips don’t always fall in their favor. If we’ve learned anything from history, the rest of the regular season will be a fairly stressful, dramatic roller coaster ride right down to the very last game.
OTF’s Adam Morgan is an award-winning screenwriter and the author of Best Hikes Near Chicago. In between hiking and watching the Beautiful Game, Adam has also written for the Tribune Company, Fox Television Studios, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Follow Adam @earthmorgan