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Fire Thu Jul 24 2014

In Battle of Disasters, Earthquakes Trump Fire

Chicago Fire soccerLast night's game was one rife with before and after. Frank Yallop, before becoming the head coach of the Chicago Fire, was the head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes. Marc Watson, before becoming the head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, was Frank Yallop's Assistant Coach. Jon Busch, before becoming the starting goalkeeper for the Quakes, was the starting goalkeeper for the Chicago Fire. Before the game, both teams were struggling against irrelevancy in rebuilding seasons, with Chicago sitting 7th in the 10-team Eastern Conference, having managed only 20 points over 18 games; and San Jose sitting in 9th place in the 9-team Western Conference, having earned just 17 points in 17 games.

Both teams, however, have seemed not terribly concerned about the speed with which they arrive at the after of their current situation. And before tonight this game would have looked like a bit of a cakewalk for the Fire, traipsing into Buck Shaw Stadium and nabbing 3 points from a team on what had already been a 5 game winless streak. Add to that the loss of San Jose player Steven Lenhart, a late scratch from the lineup, and the team looked to be playing from the back foot even before kickoff.

But the Quakes came out of the gate looking every bit the team that they haven't in the past weeks: assured, attacking, patient. The Fire were barely able to move the ball beyond midfield for long stretches of the first half, though the Chicago defense did all that they could to shut down San Jose inside the box. It stayed this way for a good majority of the initial 45 minutes, with the Men in Red defending for their life and then squandering any opportunity they would find on the counter, getting dispossessed easily or just plain over-hitting balls. Though, as the clock ticked ever closer to halftime the feeling was one of relaxation; that upon entering the locker room coach Yallop would have a lot of terrible and inspiring words for his players, and that they would come out and boss the second half. A simple before and after scenario.

But the chasm that stretches between expectation and reality is wide, and usually swallows up all who attempt to cross it with stars in their eyes. In the 45th minute of play, Shea Salinas came bombing down the left flank, neatly cut in on a perfect cross towards the box and lit up the Fire goal with an absolute screamer of a ball. Seconds later the whistle blew, the half was over and in dramatically different fashion than had been anticipated by the Fire.

Yallop may have had his eyes set on this weekend, with its upcoming match against Tottenham Hotspur of his native England, and felt that the Fire didn't need to put their all on the line in this midweek clash. Perhaps. It would be faintly damning to assume it to be the case, but given the roster moves that were made one could surmise that this was the case. San Jose scored again in rather quick fashion, as Atiba Harris knocked in a rebound from a Sean Johnson save, and less than five minutes later Yallop was ready to make his first switch. He brought on Grant Ward, the Tottenham loanee, opting to swap out the ranging rookie Harrison Shipp. It was a confounding move, in that it was a like-for -like switch and one that didn't signal a change in formation, that the Fire were suddenly going into attack mode to dig themselves out of their already 2-0 grave.

A scant 3 minutes after the substitution, and just 10 minutes following Atiba Harris' goal, Yannick Djalo notched an assist on the night when he served a great ball in to Chris Wondolowski to put the Quakes up 3-0 in confident fashion. The rout, it appeared, was on. And, you know that old chestnut about appearances becoming reality? Well, San Jose was intent to prove it correct. So much so that Grant Ward's delightful strike from outside the box in the 79th minute barely even registered with the Quakes. They simply pressed on, notching two more goals before the final whistle's merciful keen rung out, the stink of futility hanging thick as a cloud around the Men in Red.

Last night was one where several other MLS sides and their fans were ensconced in the annual battle of "we've got something to prove," as they took on English Premier League teams on their summer tours of the states. The "something to prove" is often, inadvertently, that a salary-capped league is limiting and that pitting an entire team making less than a single star player against one filled with marquee names usually blows up in the MLS side's face. Such was the case with last night's 7-0 dismantling that the LA Galaxy suffered at the hands (or feet, as it were) of Manchester United. So too Sporting Kansas City falling to Manchester City 4-1. Who could have imagined going into tonight's game that the Fire would get housed 5-1, in a contest reminiscent of the other David v. Goliath battles going on across the country. One can only hope that, when their turn comes to go toe-to-toe with Tottenham of the EPL this weekend, the sting of this wound will spur them on to better results. That Wednesday night was the before, and Saturday will be the after.

Tickets for the Tottenham game this Saturday, July 26th at Toyota Park can be purchased here. Kickoff is 7:00pm, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN and WatchESPN as well.

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