Dispatch: Chicago Fire (5) at New York Red Bulls (4)
OTF contributor Daniel Casey is still reeling from Chicago Fire’s first win of the season…
Oh, what a Shipp show.
It wasn’t pretty. Sometimes things don’t have to be. But if you ever wanted to see an example of ‘the Chicago way,’ Saturday night’s victory over New York Red Bulls was it. Breaking New York at home has not be an easy prospect for any visiting team over the past season and a half, but Chicago went into Red Bull Arena desperate for a win and played like a badger backed into a corner.
The first goal of the game was a fluke. Harry Shipp sent a ball into the box that looked to find a well offside Mike Magee. However, Magee pulled up just enough to fake out New York ‘keeper Luis Robles. The ball bounced between Robles and Chicago’s striker on its way into the net. The goal stood (the first of Shipp’s professional career) and the Fire had a lead. But as we’ve seen all season so far, Chicago is unable to keep a lead.
Not a few minutes later Tim Cahill equalized and New York settled into dominating possession until they were able to find the necessary connection between Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips. At the half, Chicago looked the poorer side, which the 2-1 score line reflected.
The first half was not a well-played half for either Chicago or New York, and while there were a flurry of mistakes plaguing both teams, it was Chicago’s inability to control the wings that really stood out. Fullbacks Greg Cochrane and Lovel Palmer seemed physically unable to stop any New York player from deciding to cross the ball. New York had 26 unsuccessful crosses when the match ended (13 successful ones), while the Fire only managed seven total crosses, a mere two of which were successful. For New York, there was plenty of hurt to parse out to Chicago’s center back pairing of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni.
Coming out after the half, Chicago was more focused in attack. Benji Joya wasn’t having a good game but he was tenacious, doing his damnedest to hunt down balls he lost. This same fight burned in Quincy Amarikwa and caught flame after he came out of the tunnel for the second half. In the 49th minute Jeff Larentowicz sent a brilliant long ball to Amarikwa for the equalizer. That was the beginning of the comeback.
Not four minutes later Shipp took a pass from Patrick Nyarko to dance a little in the box before he put away his second goal of the night into the low left corner. And just like that, the Fire had the lead back. To make it even clearer the momentum was with the Fire, and Harry Shipp was putting the league on notice this night, not five more minutes passed before Shipp dribbled his way around the entire New York back line to complete his hat trick. But the Fire weren’t done, in the 64th minute Patrick Nyarko sent in a cross that found its way into the upper left corner of the net. It was a fluke goal, a ball that Robles had no chance of stopping. The Red Bulls looked dead in the water.
But the collapse last week by Chicago was the elephant in the room. The Fire were up 5-2 with twenty-five minutes left to play, and as we all knew, Chicago doesn’t close. It’s like these guys had never played Mortal Kombat.
New York’s Wright-Phillips took it on himself to get his side back into the game. Credit must be given to New York for refusing to fold. A lifeline for Red Bulls came in the 67th when Wright-Phillips was able to collect a ball and shoot in front of a tight Chicago back four who were standing stone still. This was when it happened, when the Chicago defense checked out of the match—they played as though the match was already in hand. The goal woke the Fire up but did so in a panic.
In the 77th minute, Henry was able to entangle himself with Hurtado to draw the penalty kick. It was perhaps a weak penalty, but given Chicago’s first goal it was no less than fair. Wright-Phillips stepped up to take the penalty and notch his own hat trick. The goal was a league milestone—it was the first time in MLS history that a match featured two hat tricks. Finally, Sean Johnson had enough. His save of Wright-Phillips’ last shot, a bicycle kick, ended the madness and gave Chicago its first three points of 2014.
Nine goals in one match. This was madness. Ugly, ugly madness. It was the kind of game designed for neutrals, for naysayers, for painfully casual fans, and those who like their soccer blunt, not savvy. I hated this game, but loved that Chicago won.
This young season, the Fire have scored — they’re just unable to stop the opposing side from scoring. Anyone who insists on giving purchase to questions like “Will Mike Magee get to his 2013 form?” are missing the forest for the trees. Chicago has an offense. They can score goals. Their goals come from all around and that’s necessary. Their goals come from Captain Amarikwa, from Magic Mike, and from Holy Shipp.
The question we need to ask, that we need to press with, is: “How can this back line stop leaking goals?” With 18 goals conceded, the Fire have given up more goals this season than they did at this time last season (15), which was a year the team set a club record for goals against. Though on the flip side, Chicago has three times as many goals this season than it did last season at this time.
This is the madness of Chicago: It is both better and worse than it’s ever been. It’s a team that doesn’t deserve the record it has, but hasn’t earned a better one. All I know is this: The Fire is the best team of those yet to play ten matches. That is, once the defense sorts itself out.