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Fire Mon Apr 20 2009

Snatching A Draw From the Jaws Of Victory

The Chicago Fire may still be undefeated, but Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Kansas City Wizards sure felt like a loss. Leading 2-0 after 20 minutes and playing some of the best soccer seen from a Fire team in years, for much of the game the only real question appeared to be how many goals the Fire would score.

But Kansas City goalkeeper Kevin Hartman pulled off a series of great saves in the second half, and then former Fire striker Josh Wolff snuck in two unlikely late goals. It left most of the disappointing crowd of 10,000 scratching their heads and wondering what just happened.

Certainly there a lot of fingers could be pointed. For one thing, the Fire were dominant enough that they really should have added to their two goals, even taking into account Kevin Hartman's performance. But really, it shouldn't matter how well a goalkeeper plays when his team is 2-0 down. The game should be locked up and over - especially at Toyota Park.

The Blame Denis Hamlet Crowd will point to the fact that both goals came shortly after substitutions, when the team may have lost half a step reorganizing. A few people will single out seldom-used midfielder Austin Washington replacing Cuahtemoc Blanco as a turning point. Though in all fairness to Hamlet, many fans have been begging to see the coach take Blanco out late in a game when he starts to fade.

But giving up two late goals is just the latest indicator that the Fire defensively isn't what it was last season. They've given up 7 goals in 5 games. At this point last season they had only given up 3 goals. In the last two games, they've given up an alarming 5 goals.

It's confusing, because they didn't lose anyone from last season's fantastic back four. If anything, Tim Ward, who has claimed the starting spot at right back this season has to be considered an upgrade. So what gives? Why the repeated lapses in concentration? It's something both the coaching and playing staff need to get worked out soon.

On the bright side, there have been very few dull moments in the season so far and the Fire has shown that they are just as talented a team as everyone has made them out to be. Though it's hard to remember now, they really did play some jaw-droppingly good soccer on Saturday night. Still, it's difficult to picture a team that can't close out games like that winning a championship.

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