Chicago Fire games at Toyota Park are all done for the 2011 season. The MLS Playoffs roll on without cf97 (the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas are already out so things are looking up!). There are many changes and tweaks that will have to be made to the team before the sun rises on the 2012 campaign. Before digging deep, we look back at some of the favorite moments of this year. It may not have been as successful as Fire fans wanted but there were plenty of great memories to go around. We lead off with Mark Rogers and other thoughts from James Coston, Rodolfo Gomez, Ryan Sealock, Gregg Mixdorf, Tweed Thornton and Nicholas Fedora are after the break.
What is your best or favorite on the field moment of the 2011 Season?
Such a tough question given the crazy season the Fire had this year, especially with the last couple of games going down to the wire. If it wasn't an "on the field" moment, I'd go with the USOC game against RBNY. Yeah it was a small crowd, RBNY didn't even bring their B squad, and we thrashed them, but I had *so* much fun in the stands for that game. Section 8 moving down to Sector Latino at half time, and just all around causing a ruckus, it was a blast, and one that I won't soon forget.
Going with the on the field vibe though, you have to love the resurgence of Diego Chaves. The man is dedicated, works hard, handled being relegated to the bench and reserves games, and has came through HUGE in the clutch for us at the end of the year. Sometimes with his passing, sometimes by just being in the right place at the right time. I loved his goal against Columbus, following that rebound into the back of the net and diving into Section 8. While the game and thus the goal were meaningless to the standings, that goal signaled hope for next year.
This is an interesting question because there really isn’t a clear-cut #1. Had the Fire been able to win the U.S. Open Cup final in Seattle or the Brimstone Cup second-leg with Dallas at home, those would be solid choices. Also, had the Capital Comeback not been essentially deemed irrelevant by New York defeating Philadelphia 5 days later and ending the Fire’s playoff hopes, that would likely be my choice.
So I’ll go with the 1-0 win over Columbus on June 12th. This was my first Fire road trip, so it held some extra significance. Just when it looked like the Men in Red were destined for yet another dull 0-0 draw, in the 90th minute, Orr Barouch was able to deliver a dazzling run into the Crew box before poking a shot on net that Will Hesmer wasn’t able to hang onto, allowing Cristian Nazarit to tap home the rebound for his first MLS goal. There’s nothing quite like stealing a game on the road against a rival, although with the number of Fire supporters who made the trip, it truly did feel like Firehouse East.
Perhaps this game would have had more significance if the Fire had been able to build off of it and string together some more wins. As it turned out, the Fire would have to wait another two months for their next win at home against Toronto on August 21st.
Best on the field moment for me this 2011 was probably the goal that Cristian Nazarit scored against Columbus. Just the way time seemed to go by so slow. Cristian seemed to hold on to the ball so long and everyone just was anticipating him to somehow mess up and when the ball crossed the line, everyone seemed to release their breaths and proceeded to go insane. First win since the home opener never felt so good.
One of the best off the field moments for me was right after the NYRB Open Cup game. Seeing Dominic Oduro come out after the game, pose for pictures (especially with the 4 huge trophies) and just talk to the fans and soak in the joy after murdering the Old Metro.
I don't know why I would pick this above some of the other great moments, but my most memorable is Diego Chaves goal against DC United. After coming off a tough USOC loss, Fire fans needed something to cheer about. Though our playoff hope had dwindled to next to nothing, that goal made me believe the playoffs were inevitable for the Fire. I mean, if we can pull out a victory like that, the playoffs were meant to be, right? Even though it wasn't, for another night Fire fans dreamed of a playoff berth after a bad start to the season. I think my favorite part of the goal was the joy on Diego's face. He hadn't played much and hadn't scored in what seemed like forever. But his facial expression was that of pure ecstasy.
I have seen countless players score and look happy. But this went beyond that. It was almost like he took all the Fire fans' feelings in the world, put them into a jumble, and then showed the pure elation of all of us on his face. It is an image that I will always remember. It was not just a goal, it was a relief and vindication for Diego after a tough last few months. And ultimately it was a testament that the Fire never gave up, even when they were at the bottom of the standings and things couldn't go worse. Even when their backs were against the wall and they were down in a crucial game in stoppage time. The. Fire. Never. Quit. And that's what Tradition, Honor, and Passion are all about.
Dom[inic Oduro]'s goal against Houston. Not only did he score but it was a terrific finish. Outside of his right boot easily beating a very good keeper in Tally Hall. More importantly this was done in front of the same fan base that booed him off the field and the organization that gave up on him. Dom handled everything in a classy way post game even though you know he was dying to tell Dom Kinnear what a crap coach he really is. While the game itself ended up in a draw this was the exclamation point on Oduro's terrific season. A great finish for someone who has been a class act during his time with the Fire.
The best moment for me was when Dominic Oduro scored against the Richmond Kickers in the U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final. Richmond was playing tough but they weren't showing a lot of offensive promise. Oduro's goal put the Fire up 2-0. I've never really agreed with the cliche 'that a two goal lead' is the most dangerous one to have in soccer. A strong sense that the Fire would indeed be going to their first U.S. Open Cup Final since 2006 washed over me. It was a great feeling.
It was a special goal because of the way Oduro scored it to boot. We saw the lightning fast Ghanaian blaze down the wings all season. He burned the hopeless wingbacks, the unprepared centerbacks and the occasionally desperate and out of place midfielder in the dust again and again. If time had stood still and I was asked to place a bet on how the next set of actions was going to play out, I would have bet the house on run in the box and a shot on an angle. Instead we saw Richmond's goalie Ronnie Pascale make a move to meet Oduro and Dominic burned him with a huge arching curve of a shot that went right in the upper corner of the net. Just a great moment for the fans, great moment for the team, and great moment for Oduro displaying a multi-faceted repertoire.
I remember sitting at the Section 8 watch party when the Fire played at Kansas City to a 0-0 draw. The story of that game for me was the Fire's inability to put three passes together. I sat at the bar and counted a whopping total of two times in the second half.
Fast forward almost four months to the second half against Real Salt Lake and that Chicago Fire team calmly played "keep away" against one of the best teams in CONCACAF away from home up 3-0. Passes were crisp, off the ball movement was dynamic, and confidence was high. A sense of pride surged through me and a smile beamed across my face. Those closing moments to me were less about securing an away win or getting closer to the playoffs; it was about witnessing the product of Frank Klopas' transformation of struggling group of guys to a formidable MLS team with a very promising future.