Dispatch: Chicago Fire (2) vs. Colorado Rapids (1)
Please give a hearty welcome to OTF’s Emanuel Corpus, as he looks back on Chicago’s nail-biter vs. the Rapids at Toyota Park…
After a rough trip, delayed by a tornado that touched down near Denver’s airport on their way to Chicago the day before, the Colorado Rapids made it to Bridgeview in time to give the resurgent Fire a run for their money on a beautiful summer evening. With the Rapids recently losing two of their starters (as well as Head Coach Oscar Pareja) to suspension and the Fire riding a convincing unbeaten streak, the match had shaped up to be a classic tortoise and hare race.
Given the circumstances, most thought the Fire would walk away with three points in this one — even if Colorado gave its best effort. Chicago got the W in the end, but not without significant help from Lady Luck herself.
An embarrassing mistake by Austin Berry early in the match was mercilessly taken advantage of by the agile Rapids rookie, Deshorn Brown. Brown flashed forward alone to meet Sean Johnson in a showdown that Johnson had no hope of winning, and put Colorado up 1-0 in the 16th minute.
However, the early, silly goal was not the crushing blow it may have been mere weeks ago. The Fire were poised to fight back.
Unfazed, the Men in Red pushed numbers forward, hoping to capitalize on quality offensive play in the opening 15 minutes. Then, Mike Magee launched a back post corner onto the head of a rising Jalil Anibaba, who was barely foiled by Colorado ‘keeper Clint Irwin.
A Fire goal seemed imminent.
In the 26th minute, Dilly Duka, charged down the left flank, and looked to create space and distribute as he neared the touch line. Instead, the young winger cut towards goal, beat his man, and forced a challenge inside the box from Marvell Wynne that elicited a handball.
Referee Edvin Jurisevic pointed to the spot, and “Magic” Mike Magee, looking for his fifth goal in as many games in Fire red stepped up. This was no stress-filled, tension-laden Chris Rolfe PK. Instead, Magee’s was a cheeky, cool, and on target finish.
1-1, and the Fire were right back in it.
The Magee-induced euphoria almost shot off the charts less than ten minutes later, as the Fire’s blazing arrow found himself on the end of a great ball from Patrick Nyarko. Again, Magee netted a well-placed ball and sent Toyota Park into a two part frenzy: part one, a goal celebration, and part two, fury after Magee was ruled offside — by a hair.
Back and forth play was traded for the rest of the first half to no result, the exception being Sean Johnson’s great save on a Jaime Castrillon effort, along with a prophetic header from Austin Berry that Irwin dealt with smartly.
The Fire came out out of the locker room aggressively and struck again early in the second half. Alex’s corner, swung in and over the rabble in front of Irwin’s goal, was forcefully collected by Jeff Larentowicz, who popped it back into the box to a waiting Austin Berry at the back post.
No mistake this time, as Berry nodded it down past Irwin and into the back of the net. The Chicago defender’s sin was forgiven, if not forgotten.
After another solid outing, central midfielder Alex left the field to make way for Daniel Paladini in the 71st minute. The Fire’s spark plug only saw four minutes on the pitch with any effective attack partners though, as Mike Magee left the game due to minor back spasms.
Then, on came the (almost) forgotten man, Sherjill MacDonald.
MacDonald wasn’t just bad, he was lamentable. Sitting far back would have been ok, but the Fire’s sole Designated Player spent much of his 15+ minutes in an offside position, looked to be content just walking around, and hardly seemed to want the ball. When distribution finally came his way, the Dutchman had trouble bringing it in.
With one exception did the Fire’s offensive run of play come towards MacDonald and not end abruptly. All Mackie had to do was hold up the ball long enough to allow his hard-working friends behind him some time to make their way forward. He couldn’t.
Unable to hold possession long enough to threaten in the attacking half, the Fire found themselves pinned back in their own half, which invited the Rapids to make a final siege on Johnson’s goal.
In the 92nd minute, Dillon Powers shot a low cross across the six-yard box. Fire defenders then froze in horror, as nightmares of late own-goals scared them into half-efforts to stop the cross. Tony Cascio connected at the far post, but managed to direct what should have been an easy tap-in directly onto and off it.
Fire crisis averted, but it wasn’t over. Still in stoppage time, the final scare came about a minute later.
A lob pass dropped to Deshorn Brown, which, despite his height, Bakary Soumare wasn’t able to deal with. The adroit, athletic Brown intelligently headed the ball down in the opposite direction of where Soumare’s momentum eventually took him, and managed to turn his own body around to give himself the advantage upon landing. Brown caught up with the ball, turned, shot, and beat Johnson for the second time. Fortunately for the Fire, Brown managed to inadvertently handle the ball in the midst of his contortions. No goal.
2-1, Fire and the unbeaten streak remained intact, extended to six across all competitions.
Despite too many mental errors and stretches of undisciplined play, Chicago managed to salvage all three points. But Rarely does a team come out with a win after it loses the duels battle, has lower passing accuracy than its opponent, and cedes the majority of possession.
The Fire looked sloppy, and with the hole they’re still in, Klopas and company can’t rely on luck anymore. More performances like Wednesday night’s will only guarantee this team a middling existence.
Sure, the Fire fought from behind once again to continue it’s climb, but now the schedule gets tough, perhaps a bit crazy. By the end of the match, a tired back line revealed itself. Problem is, Chicago’s lack of defensive depth will eventually jeopardize its chances of winning.
In the near-term, and in the midst of a three-game stretch in a week, Frank Klopas may blow the Fire’s chances at a record fifth U.S. Open Cup trophy if he doesn’t roll the dice with a (mostly) reserve squad on Saturday night in Columbus. Underdog Orlando City, despite being a third division club (USL Pro), is a quality side that’s motivated by the outpouring of support it’s received from the American soccer community. The Fire must counter these upstarts with a full-strength squad come Wednesday.
Looking ahead, but not too far, Chicago gets a week break after the USOC match on June 26th, but then faces six games in a 24-day stretch from July 3rd through the 27th. If the Fire manages to advance to the USOC semifinals, and we move a bit farther into the near future to August 10th, The Men in Red face nine games in 39 days.
That’s roughly a game every four days for five and a half weeks.
In a season stunted by poor roster management (and early on, a lack of fitness), Chicago fans can only hope that reinforcements arrive and Klopas “plays the kids” before the Men in Red get run into the ground by summer’s end.
OTF’s Emanuel Corpus was literally raised in the shadows of Lambeau Field. He continues to face his inner demons every night as he tries to reconcile his passion for a Chicago sports team with his green and gold heart. Follow him @EmanuelCorpus