Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (1)

The rookie will learn to use his head more (photo: Chicago-fire.com)

The rookie will learn to use his head more (photo: Chicago-fire.com)

OTF’s Alex White draws some mixed conclusions after the Fire’s latest result…

L.A. came to Chicago to play a game with everything on the line, filled with players at the top of their game and a shot at another championship on the line for two of the best-run organizations in the sport. It was a game of quickness, brutal physicality, and nine thrilling goals. Good thing they played inside, too, because that ice would not have lasted long in the sweltering heat…

Back to reality.

It was a bit different out at Toyota Park Sunday, where it felt like summer had finally arrived with a vengeance, and two teams near the cool cellar of their respective conference standings faced off in the sun. Robbie Keane, for one, was not happy about the heat and expressed his opinion with the subtlety and grace of an expletive-laden tirade. (Warning: Apparently, lagalaxy.com does not think of the children and quotes him uncensored.)

More likely, the Irish whip was still fuming from John Kennedy Hurtato’s attentions. The Fire defender got under the international’s skin early and often, leading Keane to memorably punch the pitch after a yellow-card drawing tackle from “el Presidente.” Playing poke the bear was either a genius move or simply dumb (depending on how predictable the final outcome was), but here it worked like a charm. Combined with the heat, Keane seemed to be on tilt, pressing himself into mistakes and berating his teammates.

Perhaps he should have accepted that Ireland call-up, after all. Instead, both of the Galaxy’s stars were away from their respective national teams. Keane had worked out a time-share arrangement, and Landon Donovan… Well, let’s just say, some of us are still working through that.

But more on Lan-Don in a moment. The first half was all Fire, in a somewhat wonderfully boring way. The defense looked cohesive and competent, and the Fire were in control. While either team was unable to score, the halftime shots stats were 6-0 in the hosts’ favor.

Zero! Zero shots from the vaunted Galaxy strike team–now that’s controlling a game. Without the cardiac stress of a set-piece breakdown to cloud my mind, I was able to contemplate the finer points of Gonzalo Segares’ quiet defensive influence and the merits of the youth movement, which continued unabated.

Life is like a youngster's shot, you never know what you're gonna get... (photo: Chicago-fire.com)

Life is like a youngster’s attempt, you never know what you’re gonna get… (photo: chicago-fire.com)

The latest addition to the Fire’s ever-growing stable of colts is Chris Ritter, a Northwestern alum making his first start and who mostly held his own. Like the other rookies who’ve played such a big part in this rebuilding year, it’s, at times, such a pleasure to see the new kids find their way. Every once-in-a-while they have a moment of magic, and the look on their face when it happens — of pure joy mixed with total shock that they actually pulled it off — is fun to watch.

A great example was the interplay between Quincy Amarikwa (admittedly, no spring chicken) and Grant Ward in the 17th minute that ended in a thundering shot from Ward. Moments like that remind me why I enjoy watching this team and this game, and how interesting it will be to see them gel as the season continues.

Amarikwa, though, has been the highlight of the season to date, pressuring defenses into foolish mistakes with speed and athleticism that is a treat to witness. (His 69th minute somersault out of a tackle into a full sprint to chase the ball drew forth a burst of schoolboy laughter from me!)

Quincy drew a penalty shout early in the second half that elicited a surprising amount of debate about “going down easy.” For me, it was a tackle that could have gone either way, and the referee could have justified either decision. But then, the many varied opinions of soccer fans watching the same thing from the same angle have a complexity and diversity that make “Rashomon” seem a bit on-the-nose.

The Fire’s only goal of the day came through another controversial call, one that was in my mind more so than the last. Quincy pounced on a lackadaisical pass between Galaxy defenders deep in their own territory, sprinted to goal, was tackled just outside the box, and tumbled over the line into it. I thought the first instance was more clear-cut, but perhaps there was an element of make-up to it and a natural tendency to reward hustle. In any case, penalty given.

With Magee out, captain Jeff Larentowitz stepped to the spot. Fire PKs no longer have any element of comfort or faith for me; I start to feel as if Shaq was approaching the free-throw line. But Cap buried the ball and the calm penalty score, alongside a nifty free kick shuffle later in the half, which eased my doubts, for now.

What, you guys were worried?

What, you guys were worried? (photo: Chicago-fire.com)

But here and now, I must sigh. I do not want to type this, and I contemplate copying and pasting a familiar refrain, because: Things were not to last. A sloppy pass by rookie Ritter deep in Chicago territory, the Galaxy recover, Robbie Rogers sends a cross in to Landon Donovan, and…

The lead is gone, so cruelly. While the Galaxy’s came from a clear defensive miscue, it felt unfair. Indeed, for most of the season the Fire’s defenders seemed to be hosting a Stooges competition. On Sunday though, the team played cohesively and aggressively as a unit. They challenged hard and fought and you could see their passion and how much they wanted it.

Rookies make mistakes. It’s what they do. For each moment of joy following success, there are downs as they learn to replicate the effort and the skill required for it. There are growing pains, as they try something they are not sure they can do, and fail. And there are lapses from exhaustion, as they build up the physical and mental endurance it takes to play for 90 intense minutes.

But single, isolated lapses are what’s been between the Fire and winning.

You can look at the table and see this Galaxy is not The Galaxy, not this year. And a point against them may seem like a better result than it actually is, because of the name on the front of their shirt. (No, not “Herbalife.”)

But then, a draw’s better than losing. And there’s nothing for it but to keep on going. Here’s to more moments of joy from the youngsters along the way.

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Follow OTF Soccer on Twitter @OTFSoccer for more #cf97 conversation and debate

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OTF’s Alex White is a Georgian-in-exile who’s fallen for the Windy City, and an Illinois attorney—but for the love of all that is Good, do not get your legal advice from something you saw once on the internet, including anything he says. Follow Alex for non-legal opinions @A1exWhite or send him an email at alexander.mc.white@gmail.com

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