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Fire Mon Mar 10 2014
The first game of a sports team's season has so much riding on it that the product on the field can often seem irrelevant, the only thing of import is the outcome. If the team had ended the previous season on the skids, then a loss is seen as proof of futility right out of the gate, whereas a win is taken with a grain of salt, and without much hope allotted for the remainder of the season. The same can be true for a team that appears to have all of the necessary parts in place to dominate at the season's outset. If they are to win, this is further proof of their unstoppable power, surely a sign of good things to come. Meanwhile, a loss can signal Titanic-style panic; here we have placed our faith in something that looked unsinkable on paper, but on the field it proves mightily fallible.
The fact of the matter is that the first game of the season has little consequence behind it, even for a team like the Fire who missed out on last season's playoffs for want of one more regular season win than they ended with. Sunday saw the Fire open the 2014 losing 3-2 to Chivas USA out in Carson, California, but it isn't cause for alarm. That the Fire dropped 3 points on the road is lamentable, but there are bigger takeaways than this to be seen.
As an aside, perhaps it is a particularly Chicagoan trait to take a team's loss in stride. What good does it do to be openly angry at the players, as though they somehow did not want to win the match? Surely the Cubs organization does not go into a season with the aim of extending their 106 year World Series drought, but when they lose the emotion expressed by fans is rarely that of vitriolic anger. And why should it be? Is the joy in supporting a sports team solely to be derived from watching them win, or can it come from the act of supporting them, no matter the outcome?
So, yes, the game on Sunday ended in a loss, but when the team was facing a two goal deficit in the 59th minute they did not lay down and accept defeat. Benji Joya cemented his place in the Fire by scoring a tap-in goal within minutes of being subbed into the game for Patrick Nyarko. Joya was a much needed presence in the midfield, bringing fresh legs and a great sense of timing. Just a few minutes after Joya's goal, the Fire were able to level the score with a beautiful piece of work by Quincy Amarikwa, who showed a great first touch, and an even better finish to beat Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy. Kennedy wasn't tested often by the Fire, a bit of a worry, though the attack was far from anemic and will only get better with Magee on the field. Sean Johnson came up big for the Fire in goal, saving a number of attempts in the first half when it seemed like Chivas was just throwing everything they had his way.
The tide turned in the 55th minute when Gonzalo Segares was called for taking down Erick 'Cubo' Torres in the box and the referee pointed to the spot calling for a penalty kick. Upon review the penalty looks to be fairly light, but Segares was guilty all the same for having gotten so physical with Torres in the box. Cubo converted the PK easily, putting the Goats up one-nothing. A second Chivas goal was scored shortly after when, in the 59th minute, the be-mulleted debutante Thomas McNamara struck home a deadly cross from Leandro Barrera. Head coach Frank Yallop saw an opportunity to come back from there, however, and brought on a pair of substitutes, swapping Anangono out for Amarikwa, and Nyarko for Joya, and the attack raced back to life. The decision to bring on Logan Pause as the third and final sub, instead of perhaps Mike Magee, was a clear signal that Yallop was okay with protecting the score line as it stood, instead of angling for the win. This, coupled with the Fire's problematic set-piece defending, led to the final result, when Bobby Burling headed in a goal off of a well-placed corner kick from Mauro Rosales.
The Fire head next to Portland to take on the Timbers on Sunday, March 16th.