Fire Deliver on Pauno’s Promise
Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was adamant that his team reward the home fans with a victory in the team’s final home game on Sunday, and his players did not disappoint, knocking off the New England Revolution 2:1. The Fire played simple and fluid football and were not far away from finding the back of the net on several occasions. The victory also reversed an ugly trend of dropping points when playing from a winning position. After taking an early lead, the Fire gave away a poor equalizer, but shook off that setback by delivering a winner ten minutes from the end.
With the Fire resigned long ago that they would not be playing playoff soccer, fans and media alike have wondered why Paunovic would not allocate some playing time for younger players who have not featured much this season. Paunovic stuck to his plan and chose not to hand out minutes like they were a Cracker Jack prize.
The fans were treated to a pleasant afternoon of soccer. Paunovic made only a couple of changes from the team that started against Columbus three days earlier. Khaly Thiam replaced Razvan Cocis at holding midfielder and David Accam was preferred on the flank to John Goosens.
The Fire needed just nine minutes to get things going. Simple passes unhinged the New England defense on the left side. Brandon Vincent carried at midfield and dished to Accam, who juked past one defender and returned the ball to Vincent, with loads of time and space. Vincent’s square pass found an unmarked Michael de Leeuw in front of goal and the Dutchman fired a first-time shot with the outside of his foot. Very lazy defending by the Revs made the whole sequence look like a training-ground exercise. Darrius Barnes saw de Leeuw making his run early in the play, but chose not to close him down.
Chicago peppered the New England goal with two more great opportunities in the first half. Accam was denied by Revs goalie Brad Knighton in the 18th minute, and then Accam’s slinky run past three defenders in the 40th minute set up Arturo Alvarez from close range. Knighton blocked the shot with his legs.
All of the positives created by the Fire to that point were undone by sloppiness in the 42nd minute. With the ball at his feet, Sean Johnson tried to start the attack from his own area with a pass up the middle to Matt Polster. The ball rolled out of Polster’s reach and the opportunistic Revs converted the error into the equalizer. It was certainly one of those “bad feeling” moments that the Fire have created all too often this season. Typically, things have spiraled out of control in these situations.
Things hardly got better for the Fire when Luis Solignac was sent off in the 54th minute for kicking London Woodberry in the leg in an off-the-ball incident. The assistant referee spotted the foul and Solignac was given the boot. It was a foolish play by Solignac, as he tried to exact some vigilante justice after the two players had tangled moments earlier.
The Revs, however, could not take advantage. Pity, as they were fighting for their playoff lives in this match. Such a lack of urgency was genuinely startling.
Momentum turned back to the Fire in the 73rd minute. Accam sneaked up on Knighton as the goalkeeper calmly dribbled the ball out of his penalty area and poked the ball free. Before Accam could turn and shoot into the empty net, Knighton dragged him to the turf. Referee Baldomero Toledo brandished his red card and the sides finished the match with ten men apiece. The play was reminiscent of the New York Cosmos’ Steve Hunt’s pilfering of Seattle goalkeeper Tony Chursky in the NASL’s (v. 1.0) Soccer Bowl 77. Chursky tried to bring down Hunt, but only came up with Hunt’s right shoe and the Englishman knocked the ball home for a 1:0 lead en route to a 2:1 win.
The Fire put the result to bed with ten minutes to go. Jonathan Campbell played a long pass into space behind the Revs defense for Accam, who accelerated towards goal. Campbell placed the ball into a spot where only Accam was going to reach it. Accam measured his shot carefully and slotted past substitute keeper Bobby Shuttleworth for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
There would be no giveaway of points in this match. The Fire closed things down professionally. Against this caliber of opponent, the Fire should have been racking up wins consistently. Paunovic praised the mentality of his players in this match. For the cynic, it begs the question, why have the Fire left their soccer brains at home so many times this season?