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Fire Mon Mar 31 2014
It is perhaps too easy to look at the facts of a sporting contest, whether it be the final or box score, and form a point of view without having seen minute of the game in question. Why do we care so much for results? Does not a win achieved, but otherwise unearned, blot out a poor team performance? So too does a draw in what could have very easily been a loss. This is what was on display in our nation's capitol this last Saturday, where a hung-over looking Fire were able to pull level with DC United thanks to some late match heroics. The team seemed out of sorts, which could be attributable to the rainy atmosphere or the dire attendance at RFK Stadium, and hopefully this will have been a teachable moment for them.
Before the breakdown let's take a look at where the team was this time last year, shall we? After the first four matches of the 2013 season the Fire were facing some pretty dire straits, with a record of zero wins, one draw and three losses. They had been scored on nine times, and only netted one goal, which came in a 4-1 loss to Chivas USA. Their one draw had come off a 0-0 result at Kansas City. At present the Fire have a record of 0-1-3 (3 points). All of this is to say that if the result on Saturday, and to a larger extent the whole of this new season, leaves something to be desired, things are better than they were already last year and can only go up from here.
Granted, that early stretch of losses came prior to the acquisition of Mike Magee, whose performance this season has thus far been that old trope of post-award fall-off. Winning last year's MLS MVP will hopefully not have the same effect on Magee as did the Oscar on the performances of actors like Halle Berry, Kevin Spacey, and Cuba Gooding Jr. The Fire certainly don't need a Catwoman-style season from their most potent attacking talent, or worse, a Boat Trip.
The real standout performance of the match, as well as for the other two games in which he's appeared, came from Harrison Shipp, the Fire's homegrown midfielder. Shipp has proven himself to be a stalwart presence on the team, both as an attacking player and set piece specialist. It was his out-swinger on a corner kick in the 28th minute that saw the Fire open scoring on the day, as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado came hurdling over Christian Fernandez to head the ball into the DC goal.
Already in three games Shipp has helped put away two goals off of his great service from the corner, and his delivery will only get more precise as he and the team work on such plays.
While Chicago opened scoring, it had really been DC that had the better looks on goal for the first half of the game, and it would only take 6 minutes after the Fire's goal for them to answer and level things up. As befitted a match with a dearth of creative play-making from the run of play, DC's goal came from a dead-ball situation as well. In the 34th minute, after a charging Eddie Johnson was taken down mere feet outside of the penalty area, DC were awarded a free kick. It proved to be a well-designed set-piece for DC, with Nick Deleon faking the kick, laying the ball off for Fabian Espindola to shoot low through a now-broken wall of Chicago players, past a diving Sean Johnson. It was an impressively clever play, plain and simple.
The game's second half saw both teams' form coalescing, as midfield distribution got better, the Fire in specific had several good attacking opportunities come together, but finishing is still an issue in the attacking third. Mike Magee specifically made some great runs, though the question remains whether he is better served playing as a withdrawn forward as we've seen these past two games, or as the target man up top. Magee played the majority of last year up front and ended up having a career year, so it will remain to be seen if Yallop will play him in the target role for next Saturday's clash with the Philadelphia Union.
Magee's partner at the top, Quincy Amarikwa, is looking to be having a breakout year himself. He scored the second Chicago goal of the day which happened to be his second goal for the year as well. In his previous 5 seasons in the league Amarikwa hasn't ever scored more than 3 goals in a season, and already he is already 66% of the way to putting up his best numbers yet. This should translate to a surge in confidence on his part, which ought to lead to more confident playing. Amarikwa's goal on Saturday, scored in the 82nd minute, came off a beautiful nutmeg and pass combination from Patrick Nyarko, who came on for Benji Joya early in the second half. A charging Amarikwa had a good read on the pass and rocketed it in, leveling things late.
All credit where it is due, this Fire team found their rhythm in the second half and never stopped looking for the result, it just came down to some defensive lapses and a need for a more creative attack. They are look like a team willing to leave it all on the field in pursuit of the win.
On a final note, this week did produce one of the more interesting pieces of tifo yet seen in Major League Soccer. With their display, the District Ultras supporters' group from DC paid their respects to the recently departed Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, lead singer of the band Gwar. It is, to my knowledge, the first time Gwar has appeared on a piece of tifo. More noteworthy, perhaps, is that there was a thankfully generic Chicago Fire player impaled on one of Oderus' spiked shoulder pads. I found it to be in keeping with the comic nature of Gwar, therefore completely inoffensive, but quite something to see.
This week's action is at home on Saturday at 4:00pm, when the Fire take on the Philadelphia Union, who have gotten things off to a fairly competent start so far. They will provide the Fire with their toughest test since playing the Portland Timbers two weeks ago, though with the squad coming together and doing all that they can to protect a lead there is hope yet for the Fire. Tickets are on sale here, and you can book passage to Toyota Park using the Pub-to-Pitch buses, which are $10, BYOB, and have a toilet! In that regard they are better than your college dorm room was. What more could you want?