Resilient Fire Defeat Red Bulls… So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance
There was a point, eons ago, when OTF covered on-field soccer events in addition to domestic soccer culture. …This is one of those posts.
Witnessed on the field last night was the kind of grit, resiliency, and determination that Fire Supporters had been hoping to see the whole season but rarely had. Even if the game had ended in a draw (which Eric Gherig made sure did not happen) the experience was pure pleasure.
As commentator Kevin Egan said after the 45min whistle blew, “Is that the half already?!”
The game developed at a furious pace. A blur of speed and physicality. The kind of duel that makes supporters applaud by beating their black-shirted chests, and gets casuals to consider Pub-to-Pitch tickets for the last few home games… if the weather’s “deece.”
We’ve seen glimpses of this Fire; late on in the Union rematch a few weeks back, earlier this season against FC Dallas and Seattle, but never a sustained drive like Wednesday.
Perhaps more remarkably, this response comes at the lowest of low points in the 2015 season: Supporters are organizing in opposition to the owner (you haven’t heard?), there’s been a string of losses against the few teams Chicago is expected to be better than, and the team had just shipped away their prized DP acquisition for “personal reasons.”
Annnnnyway, after what the team showed in this this win, The Dog Days of MLS Summer will be a bit more interesting in Chicago. Some thoughts:
Shipp-less Shape: With the Fire’s most prestigious Designated Player laying around in some Hull City hotel, HC/TD Frank Yallop went “all wing, all the time” with Joevin Jones overlapping David Accam on the left, and Matt “Clockwork Red” Polster covering for Patrick Nyarko on the right. Gilberto paired with
Iggggbwoaanananikiekkay Kennedy up top. Missing was Chicago’s prince, Harry Shipp, who took a seat on the bench. Not starting our darling playmaker was a surprise considering Shaun Maloney was no longer a part of the team. Razvan Cocis was back in the lineup for Matt Watson (why was he ever gone, I have no fucking idea), paired with a giant spark plug in the shape of Michael Stephens.
Card Shark: Accam’s finishing and distribution is still questionable, but he is goddamn fun to watch terrorizing right backs. If he plays, he inevitably creates yellowcard-inducing panic. Connor Lade was the most recent victim. Lade resorted to physicality early and was quickly was tagged with yellow. Accam’s presence in the game nearly guarantees some bonus free kicks (which, coincidentally, he now takes).
You Show ‘Em Gil!: Gilberto took an early knock in the game and then started delivering them back. The Brazilian took joy in kicking through opponents, and was particularly adept at jumping on top of the diminutive Dax Mccarty at any opportuinty. Dax, by the way, is still the most entertaining defensive midfielder to watch in the MLS. Gilberto still appears slightly fatigued but he did show signs of good acceleration, got on the end of a good cross goal, and also passed on a goal opportunity when he was caught facing the wrong way in the 18 yard box. He might still be a good salvage project though. Gilly did wind up contributing on two of the goals including an incisive right-to-left cross to the top of the box which Stephens chest-passed to Nyarko for the finish. Can we talk about Stephens now? Good.
Michael. Effing. Stephens.: Love em. Love everything about em. He’s miniscule, but he has an amazing engine — he’s always moving, always pushing, always barking, always clapping. Love it. We missed him earlier this year, pre-injury, where his pairings with Shipp were making things happen. Less than a minute after Shipp was subbed into the game, he connected in an exchange with Stephens who darted past him on the left sideline, sending a lob forward to Accam who fed Igbo for the go-ahead goal. It looked suspiciously easy. Oh, how I missed our little Mikey. Stephens also was critical in the Fire’s two other signature games this year: the come-from-behind draw away at Philadelphia earlier this August, and the home win against Seattle in July. Clearly, this is just a coincidence.
Iggy Props: Kennedy has had his ups and downs… and downs… and downs… but the striker that played last night was the one Brian Bliss thought he had bought (and subsequently payed down down with targeted allocation funds). Physical, speedy, raw, and capable of finishing a respectable percentage of his opportunities, Iggy got himself another two-fer yesterday and he EARNED it. Earned it like Amarikwa with out all the pouting. (Sidenote: San Jose has set their clocks to Quincytime, and everyone is more productive). The highlight of the entire game for me was when Iggy finished his first score calmly after a iffy first touch and promptly dashed into the net to retrieve the ball and get started again. It was 33 minutes into the game. The gesture may have been a bit premature, but it was appreciated. It was clearly a mea culpa for when Igboananike took the ball into the corner to bleed out time late into a tied match against Philadelphia, and got called out by a typically outraged Mike Magee.
The Central Issue: It is doubtful the center back pairing of Jeff Larentowicz and Gherig will return next season, but it’s still worth a mention; they’re actually not that bad. Hell, American Soccer Analysis suggested that the Chicago Fire defense is actually good. Fire supporters clearly appreciate Gherig’s intensity and his weekly jawing with whichever opposing forward he marks. His opposite — the collected and distinguished Big Red Larentowicz — played a feisty 90 minutes, sneaking forward and getting his head on two corner kicks. Larentowicz’s ferocious play clearly had something to do with his Chris Conte-like tackle on NYRB’s Matt Miazga in the box.
So does this win mean FIre supporter discontent is over? Nope. They’re still in last place, with a series of of must-win road games ahead. Oh, BTW, the Fire have not won an away game in a very, very long time. The numberbots at ESPNFC are just as pessimistic, putting Chicago’s chance of making the playoffs at 6%.
So we continue to applaud the team while staring daggers into the Toyota Park luxury boxes until there is some sort of… something. On that note, there are fliers now (you haven’t heard?). There is also a pretty interesting Reddit post trying to better articulate Fire Supporter’s disappointment. I’d check it out.