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Fire Tue Apr 28 2015

Chicago Fire Keep Winning Streak Alive

Chicago FireAs anyone who has seen Vegas Vacation, The Godfather Part III, or Blues Brothers 2000 can likely attest, taking time away from something that had been great can make the act of returning to it a rather painful experience. These trepidations were no doubt a feeling shared by many as the Chicago Fire took to the field last Friday after a full 20-day spell in the dry dock. The Men In Red had begun to form into a cohesive unit in the matches prior to the unintended hiatus, leading several people to speculate that the squad's progress would be undone in the fallow period. The naysayers were proven wrong in the end, as the night saw the Fire put on quite a show for their soccer-starved fans, rolling to a 1-0 victory over the visiting New York City FC. David Accam opened his scoring account with the team, and nearly came close to netting his first hat trick as well.

The result can be credited to a wide variety of factors beyond simply that of the Fire outplaying NYCFC. For one thing, New York were without starters David Villa and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, two big difference makers for the side. Second, the Fire played nearly the 2/3rds of the match with a man advantage after Andrew Jacobson was sent off in the 24th minute for fouling David Accam on a breakaway. Despite these advantages Chicago were still only able to manage a one goal performance, which nearly slipped away at the end of the game. That the Fire were held to such a parsimonious lead was, quite simply, because NYCFC keeper Ryan Meara had an absolutely sensational night between the sticks--save for his lone gaffe that led to David Accam's goal--which called to mind the performance put on by Tim Howard at last year's World Cup in the USMNT's match against Belgium. The second best defensive performance on the night came not from the NYCFC defense, but from the uprights of the goal itself, as the Fire struck woodwork 3 times in most convincing fashion.

New York as a team are a bit of an anomaly, as there have been few expansion sides that have been created wholesale out of thin air this late into the league's existence. Because of this their identity swings wildly, based almost solely on their most recent performance as well as their close ties to parent company Manchester City. The team's popularity is another thing entirely, receiving write-ups in estimable publications like The New Yorker and igniting renewed attentions paid to the league, despite having played fewer than ten games through their nascent existence.

While the Fire were able to walk off the pitch on Friday night with their heads held high, the performance was not without its fair share of issues as well. In the 20 days between games head coach Frank Yallop and his staff had a second spring training of sorts, wherein players and their positions were reevaluated, resulting in a few changes to the team taking the field. Matt Watson got his second starting nod of the season, playing alongside rookie sensation Matt Polster, while Guly Do Prado got his first start, replacing Quincy Amarikwa up top in the attack.

Amarikwa was subbed on in the 66th minute of play, a clear signal from Yallop shot across Do Prado's bow that his lackadaisical performance had not passed muster. This was a wise move, as he seemed at several times to be out of match fitness, but it may have also caused also laid bare some internal tensions on the team as well. That Do Prado had gotten the starting spot ahead of Amarikwa, coupled with his rather ineffective play seemed to have rankled Amarikwa, who took every opportunity to prove his mettle as first choice starter. This bullheadedness resulted in Amarikwa getting dispossessed or shut down when making solo runs into the box, when he could have laid the ball off to another teammate on the wing. There were a few chances that looked to fall in the Fire's favor before these blunt runs were made, squandering some otherwise solid build up play. It was an attitude otherwise antithetical to the team focus that had been the talk of the team in the leadup to the game.

In all, the team are sitting on 9 points through 6 games, with a record split cleanly between wins and losses. That the team has yet to tie a game is something of a momentous achievement as well, as last year after 6 games the team had lost once and drawn 5 times, for a total of 5 points. In fact, one would have to go all the way back to the start of the 2009 season to find a Fire team with a better record, that of 10 points through the first 6 games. Chicago are currently in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, 5 points outside of 1st place and with two games in hand. If they are able to continue their streaking performance and sort out their issues up top, there is no telling how far the team can go. Let's just make sure there is no more down time, lest we end up having a Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull on our hands.

~*~

Stay tuned to this spot tomorrow for a special piece, as I was able to get a sit-down interview with one of the starters for the team, and we covered every topic under the sun. It was a real treat, and I think that you'll enjoy it as well.

 
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