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Fire Mon Mar 16 2015

Chicago Fire Home Opener Goes Awry

Chicago FireWhat connectve tissue binds the following disparate items: Steven Spielberg's 2005 thriller Munich, Bon Iver's 2011 self-titled album, and this past Saturday night's Chicago Fire tilt against the Vancouver Whitecaps? If, dear reader, it should happen that you've experienced any of the three the scent may be familiar, but for those souls who haven't had the pleasure, please allow this explanation. Each of the above-named items are of that particularly unfortunate caste: entertainments which tease their audience into believing they are in the company of something truly wonderful, only to squander much of that goodwill in the waning moments, whether it be through a ridiculously operatic grief-sex scene, Bruce Hornsby-channeling soft rock, or a defensive lapse leading to a goal in the 86th minute spoiling the home opener.

Often the best way to process the reaction that this causes is to simply dismiss the trespasses against that which came before, rather than dismiss the entire work itself. Songs can be removed from listening devices, films paused for eternity, but for a game of soccer, such expurgation is less an option.

munich2-590x308.jpg

Steven Spielberg made Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull just so people would forget this moment

It is through rational discussion about the game that we can seek to reclaim the quality that was witnessed in earlier segments before things fell apart. For large stretches of the game the Men In Red looked well on their way to netting their first goal of the season, perhaps even locking things down and sailing to their first home opening win since 2012.

Following last week's loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, a match that saw the Fire looking quite anemic on all fronts, head coach Frank Yallop took the opportunity to switch up his team sheet, having the Fire line up in a 4-1-4-1, with Quincy Amarikwa up top, backed up by Michael Stephens, Shaun Maloney, Harry Shipp, and Joevin Jones. Matt Polster made his first career start, in a withdrawn center mid role, with Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz, Adailton, and Lovel Palmer in back. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson picked up an infection after cutting his arm in preseason, allowing Jon Busch to make a triumphant return to a position he last held in Chicago back in 2009.

And what a return it was. Busch was the obvious man of the match, notching 5 key saves and keeping things fairly level for the majority of the game. Even the goal that the Whitecaps eventually scored in the dying moments of regulation play could be chalked up more to errors committed by the Chicago defense than Busch.

From the first moments of the match it was obvious that Polster, the Fire's first-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, was seeking to prove his worth in the first team. While an understandable and quite admirable desire, it also meant that he wasn't operating from a completely clear frame of mind. Likely because of this Polster committed a good deal of overeager challenges on the day, leading to him being shown a yellow card in just the fourth minute of play. Despite the nerves, Polster eventually found a pretty good rhythm and showed well before being subbed off in the 59th minute.

It was in this moment, when Polster was taken off, that Yallop made his biggest move of the night, bringing on striker Kennedy Igboananike and forcing a shift in the formation. The Fire attack yet to find its surest footing, with a the best chances at a goal coming from dead ball situations, with one or two solid build up sequences. The addition of Igboananike up top gave Amarikwa a partner in the attack, though the pair seemed to have issues in appropriately reading one another. This wall will hopefully erode over the coming weeks as they feel out their roles in the partnership.

Another takeaway is that the Fire back line, a subject of much scrutiny this offseason, proved to be less of a liability, with strong performances from off-season signings Eric Gehrig and Adailton. Team captain Jeff Larentowicz was mostly a solid presence in the back as well, though there were a few times when he looked to be a little out of sorts. The only real issue to be found was in the performance of Lovell Palmer playing out of position at left back. When Igboananike was subbed on it did see Palmer shift to his regular spot, but it didn't see him return to his usual form. In the end it was Palmer's misplaced header that led to Octavio Rivero's goal for Vancouver.

The goal was a rotten event, an upset spoiling an otherwise well-played homecoming, but there are lessons to be learned from it. Chiefly, that the team is still not yet fully set, that they have the right pieces to succeed, and in time they very well may get there. They are lucky, because unlike Munich, Bon Iver, or countless other pieces of entertainment who couldn't stick the landing, this is but a single step in a 34-part series.

The Fire travel this week to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes at their new home, Avaya Stadium, on Sunday night at 6:00pm. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports One.

 
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