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Fire Mon Apr 06 2015

The Day the Fire Sprang to Life

Chicago FireThere should be a saying that "nothing terrible happens on a beautiful Chicago day," and if anything could attest to that, it would have been the Chicago Fire this past Saturday. They seemed to shake off the winter blues and played their most exciting game of the season in a 3-2 win against Toronto FC for their second win in a row. The real story isn't that the Fire won, its how they won it. For a team that was supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, they played with a certain flair, heart, and pace that bottom dweller could never muster. It almost seems like this game was the Fire's coming out of the basement moment and their beginning to a streak of staying out of it.

Frank Yallop, who had to coach on his birthday, had a great present in Shaun Maloney seeming to find his ground. It could have been some confidence drawn from playing for the Scotland National Team over the international break and scoring two penalties against Gibraltar in a 6-1 trouncing, but whatever the reason is, he played like a man who realizes his role as a designated player. Not only did he score his first goal for the Fire and free up his teammates with his passing, but he also looked a lot more accurate on the eight corner kicks he took. He only took one shot, but his contribution to the team was more than just a stat line, his ability added to the completeness that was the team that game.

Speaking of designated players giving Yallop a birthday present, David Accam also came back from international break with a zen mindset. While he didn't score over the break with Ghana, he was subbed in during Ghana's friendly against Mali in the 81st minute. It looked like the training weights were taken off because he was explosive against Toronto, using his incredible speed to mince Toronto's weakened backline. He also took a few physical shots for the team, especially a crushing blow given by Toronto right back Warren Creavalle, who was given a second yellow, and the resulting free kick by Jeff Larentowicz turned into the game winning goal. He's also probably not exactly friends with Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who shoved him in the 70th minute and earned him the boos of the entire fan section for the rest of the game.

The whole team ran all over Toronto and also shut them down as well. They blocked six of Toronto's 11 shots, kept Altidore under an Invisibility Cloak for most of the game, and kept Jon Busch (who was in for the injured Sean Johnson) down to having to make only one save. Also on the injury list for the Fire are Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, who will definitely add to the speed and attacking prowess that the Fire showed. The idea of a Harrison Shipp cross to Magee should give every Fire fan shivers, and should make other fans shiver in fear. It'll be an interesting team to see perform when/if everyone is healthy and if the backline can stay strong while the midfielders and forwards ravage the opposing final third, playoffs aren't too completely absurd to talk about. They have the pieces, the Fire just have to put them together and they can compete with any team in the league.

Here lies the problem, however. First, Toronto had what can be thought of as their second team backline in the game and are struggling to find their identity. Even though they shut down big names like Bradley and Altidore, using Toronto as a measuring stick would be a terrible idea as they are trying to find their rhythm, just like the Fire. Toronto has also never won at Toyota Park in their nine games there and are currently trying to get through a road trip that can only be described as ridiculous. They haven't played at home so far and won't until May 10.

Not to make too many excuses for Toronto, but the other problem with getting too much hope up is that the Eastern Conference playoff race is bound to be close. With an expanded playoff system that includes six teams out of the 10 in each conference, there's more room for making it, but there are also some quality teams that could find their footing. New York City FC and Orlando City have very strong rosters when they have their entire team, Columbus Crew have a very strong team this year, and help us Superman if Toronto realizes their talent. These are all teams the Fire reside over in the standings right now, and even with plenty of time in the season, the conference isn't as clear cut as to who will be that good team that didn't make the playoffs.

If the Fire want to not be a part of that drama that will come at the end of the season, they need to be what most of the teams in the East drama won't be, consistent when needed. Look at the New England Revolution last year: after losing eight in a row, they ended up only losing two times in the next 14 games. Or even the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were on the fringe of the playoffs and won four of their last five to skate in. Toronto started off their first four last year 3-1 and ended up in 7th place. It all goes back to that famous story about the tortoise and the hare; it's not about how you start, it's how you finish.

Unfortunately for anyone wanting to see signs of progress, the Fire have a bye next week. However, they now know what they can continue to work on as they wait to take on the Montreal Impact on April 18. The Fire showed their fans what can happen when everything clicks -- it's now up to them to make sure things continue to click. Nothing would hurt more than to say that this was their best game of the season, but everything would feel right saying this was the game that pushed them to be one of the best in the conference. It'll take time to see how it all pans out, but this game showed what happens when the Fire control their own destiny.

 
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