Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) vs. New York Red Bulls (0)
OTF’s Brian Howe Battle suppresses the feel-goody-ness that three points bring, and sits you down for some “real talk”.
What is this feeling?
Anxiety driven by good fortune? Weird.
It is the feeling of residual pessimism. It is the feeling of dread that comes from the appearance of hope. It is the feeling of an organization readying themselves to say “told ya so,” as soon as the worst case scenario doesn’t occur.
The 2014 Chicago Fire won, yesterday, by the way.
*waits for applause*
The win means they are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, and are in better form and heightened spirits for the very, very pivotal midweek match-up against the mighty Seattle Sounders for a U.S. Open Finals berth. “Pivotal”, here, is really the operative word.
In the world of MLS, winning hardware solves all problems. It silences all critics. And, if you’re tracking what’s happened so far during the Andrew Hauptman reign, “Silencing All Critics” may as well replace “Passion” in Chicago Fire’s motto. A win against Seattle means The Men in Red an opportunity to win their fifth U.S. Open Cup. Full Stop.
Now, the pivot — A loss means that the self-proclaimed “Kings of the Cup” would most likely surrender that title to Seattle despite trophies from 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006. (Hauptman’s Andell Holdings, if you’re curious, took over the club in 2007). The loss of that game, and by association Chicago’s claim as U.S. Open Cup Kings, would be the last little bit of something preventing Fire Faithful from breaking out the pitchfork sharpeners and torch primer.
But enough, digression — CHICAGO FIRE WON A GAME.
Perhaps just as importantly, the squad may have found a center back pairing that works. Converted defensive mid Jeff Larentowicz is learning on the job, but he’s learning quick. To color man Kevin Egan’s credit, Big Red has all the qualities of a good center back — leadership, instinct, and height. Larentowicz’s stolid presence is now paired with the mercurial Bakary Soumare. Fresh from his benching, “Good Baky” showed up to save the day… twice.
Soumare logged two risky (but perfectly executed) slide tackles in the box on MLS leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips. B.W.P., btw, is this year’s winner of the Thierry Prize — the striker chosen to receive a year’s worth of amazing service by Theirry Henry. Henry, despite his age, is still leading the league in assists, as well as the informal sabermetric stats of PPG (Panache Per Game) and SOB (Swag on Ball).
Credit also must go to Sean Johnson who recorded another shut-out and has now strung together a few terrific games. This one wasn’t an easy one, either. Wright-Phillips, Henry, and Lloyd Sam all put shots on goal that could very well have put the kaibosh on the Fire’s season.
It’s also worth noting that Mike Magee’s transition to CDM is also coming along as well.
I’m only half kidding.
Magee’s uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time only works when he’s near the goal and he’s spending long parts of the game way, wayyyyy, waaaaayyyy deep. That poacher’s 6th sense is still intact though, as he successfully redirected his own PK when it boomeranged back to him for the game’s only score.
Magee’s partner, Quincy Amarikwa, looks gassed — but his ability to fall in the box has never been better. Amarikwa running on empty is especially concerning since the reason Quincy is in the lineup is pure energy, and that energy is clearly waining as we move towards the end of the season.
“Gas” might just be the biggest team issue. It’s especially evident in the midfield where the squad just does not have the work rate required. It may be mental (which is fixable) instead of conditioning (which is irreparable during the season), but there is a clear performance gap.
Service to the forwards is spotty. This partially explains Magee’s need to regress into the midfield. Defensively, the Red Bull midfield had the entire game to put their heads up at the midline and pick out the runs of Wright-Phillips & Co. Those chances were shut down in THIS GAME, but the Fire have two more in the next seven days, so, we’ll see how that holds up.
A win is a win. Three points means the Fire have a better chance of making the playoffs. You know, the inferior Eastern Conference playoffs in which half the league make it into?
Making the playoffs, surely, will silence the critics.
OTF Contributor Brian Howe Battle is a Chicago local, burgeoning cynic, and will forever describe himself as a soccer nOOb. You can find his other soccer musings at the Owen Goal blog. Follow Brian on Twitter at @OwenGoal.