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Fire Mon Apr 07 2014

Fire Unbeaten in Four Games, Though Winless in Five

GB fire icon.pngIf you were to taste the most delicious apple in the world, all crisp, juicy flesh, far beyond being the paragon of tart sweetness, what would you do? Would you not, after having savored every succulent bite, try to find a way to keep this flavor in your life? Surely, you might think, this is just as easy as saving the seeds from the core and planting them in the ground, your careful stewardship bearing literal fruit for the rest of your life and beyond. If you were to go to these lengths though, the apples you'd pluck from the tree would be a sour affront to your avaricious aspirations, a flavor far removed from the ambrosia from whose seeds it had sprouted.

This is due to the fact that apples are considered extreme heterozygotes, meaning that when they reproduce their offspring contain such wildly different DNA that they bear little resemblance to the parent. Because of this heterozygosity, an apple variety is only able to continue its propagation through the process of grafting, where a limb of a successful tree, the scion, is joined with a host tree, the rootstock, and over time the desired fruit will grow just as it had originally. In order for this graft to take, there must be a strong bond through which will flow the lifeblood of the tree and if this bond is not properly forged, the graft may die off.

Thus far in the 2014 season the Fire are finding themselves playing like apples grown from the seeds of the 2013 team. They are not currently better and not entirely worse than they were last year, simply different. If we look to the 2013 season, one is able to see the acquisition of Mike Magee from the Los Angles Galaxy as akin to the grafting of a scion onto the rootstock; the Galaxy were coming off winning their second-straight MLS Cup in as many years, while the Fire had quickly bowed out of their first playoff appearance in two years. Magee was placed into a situation to bond with the team and produce goals, an aim which bore wonderful fruit for 2013. It is just that the product this season has left a decidedly different taste in the mouths of fans who had detected the particular flavor of greatness last year.

Saturday's match against the Philadelphia Union, which ended in a 2-2 draw, found the Fire in just about every familiar position they've been this season; from fighting to protect an early lead, to leaky set-piece defending, to throwing everything forward to get the result, and ultimately settling for the draw. Not to imply that this team settles. In fact it is just about anything but settling, if anything they are out-and-out scrappers. The Fire have shown this season they are quite determined to ensure the team gets a point, or points, out of each and every match.

The Fire took to the field at Toyota Park on a gusty Saturday, in front of an announced crowd of 12,699, to face an evenly matched opponent in Philadelphia. Both teams had slow, unspectacular starts to their seasons, but got off on the right foot as the game kicked off. The Fire came out charging and had a few good runs at goal but were not able to capitalize on their chances. That is, until in the 16th minute of play, when Bakary Soumare played a long ball up the left-hand side of the field to Quincy Amarikwa who was able to beat out Philly defender Amobi Okugo and cross a beautiful ball in to Mike Magee who put it home, giving the Fire an early 1-0 lead.

Philadelphia answered back 15 minutes later when midfielder, and US National Team player, Maurice Edu buried the ball in the net off of a Union corner. It was at this moment that the tenor of the game changed, and a surging Union took control of the game. The Fire could scarcely get the ball past midfield, while the Union pressed the attack and put Chicago on the defensive. 

A mere four minutes after Philly got on the board they pulled ahead with a tricky bounce off of a Leo Fernandes free kick that evaded a diving Sean Johnson to find the back of the net.

The Fire were not able to pull level with the Union before the first 45 minutes had ended, though they did manage to string together some impressive sequences as they looked for that second goal. Patrick Nyarko in particular reminded fans that he was still the Fire's best attacking midfield when it came to creativity and good service into the box.

The second half got off to a slow start, though it was evident that the Fire were looking to win this game any way that they could. Quincy Amarikwa had a few good chances, but he either saw his efforts wrapped up by Philadelphia 'keeper Zac McMath or squandered by his target's inability to finish. The play was back and forth for a large part of the half, but as the time grew narrow Chicago started to force their way out of the goal deficit in which they found themselves. Frank Yallop brought Juan Luis Anangono on for Patrick Nyarko in the 77th minute and he worked impressively right away to put himself in good spaces but his finishing touch was still elusive.

That is until the Fire were awarded a free kick off of a shirt tug by Corben Bone on Alex. Magee served a lovely ball which connected with Anangono as he beat his defender in the box, heading from a tough angle and putting the ball over McMath at the near post and in, leveling the score at 2-2.

In the final minutes of regulation, and the 5 minutes of stoppage time, things seemed to go a little off the rails as both sides fought to take home 3 points. The play was going end to end, and players were getting a little rough, it was a bit of a mess. As the final whistle drew near, Anangono was taken down in the box by Aaron Wheeler in the 95th minute of play, and referee Chris Penso pointed to the spot, to the elation of all Fire fans in the stadium. The team's first win was within sight as the game was otherwise all but over and they had been given a golden opportunity.

Mike Magee stepped up to take the shot, facing Section 8 behind the goal, bouncing and chanting with such excitement. He readied himself, took a short run, kicked the ball low with his right foot towards the left side of goal. Zac McMath expertly read Magee's effort however, and made not one, but two amazing saves as he blocked the kick and Magee's rebound strike a second later.

And so it went. The Fire did not lose, and neither did they win. It is hard to look at this game as a failure, as the team did everything in their power to secure the win, it was just a feat of great goalkeeping that held them to the draw. In the post-game press conference Yallop admitted that, while he was disappointed to miss out on three points, he is still learning the squad and their strengths. The season has gotten off to a curious start, full of hard-fought games that just can't rise above the draw. The team find most of their goals off of set-pieces, but also concede the majority of them the same way. This could all possibly be solved through further assessing the positional depth of the team and changing tactics, or perhaps it is that the team needs a new graft of talent to help the season blossom.

This coming week sees the Fire traveling up to Olympic Stadium in Montreal to face former head coach Frank Klopas' Montreal Impact, who have started the season on the slide. It will be the Fire's best chance for a win so far this season, though it will surely be bittersweet as most of the team in place played for Klopas last year.

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