I don't know how it happened. I've been thinking about little else than this game since Friday morning. I watched tape, I made notes, I wrote some stuff, I edited some stuff. And here it was, THE GAME, and sure, the Fire were losing, but it was only 2-1, and sure, we didn't have much of the ball, but we'd just fallen behind, so we hadn't been trying to keep it that much before than anyway.
Somehow, despite my heart pounding in my throat, despite the fact that here it was, the game I'd gotten so geeked up about - I don't know. I can't explain it. But somehow, around the 55th minute or so, I fell asleep.
I mean, I hadn't slept that well Saturday night. So maybe that explains it. And I had been thinking about how it could go wrong - how bad it could get if cf97 needed the win and the RedBulls elite attacking talent got to run a freewheeling counter-attack seminar. So it's hardly surprising that, once I dozed off, I had that kind of nightmare. And really, for falling asleep during a game of this magnitude, I had a nightmare coming.
It was a doozy. The Fire were trailing, just like in real life, and were playing for odd chances on the break. Then Sam Lloyd, who started on the right wing instead of Eric Alexander, cut into the penalty area while a couple of Fire defenders stood attendance. I realized right away "Oh my gosh, I'm dreaming," because nobody closed him down, and Sam Lloyd, of all people, curled an absolute peach of a left-footer around Sean Johnson. In my dream, we're down 3-1, and the supporters' section behind the goal was writhing mass of tentacles, howling in languages not meant for human ears. An acrid smoke drifted across the field.
You know, I think I may have fallen asleep at halftime, now that I think of it. I dreamt a small hurricane of spirits flew about the penalty area just after the break, spinning a tricky Thierry Henry free kick out of Johnson's hands, where the New Yorkers (who in dream-logic did not fear the ghosts) each touched it several times before consenting to allow the spirits to gust it goalward. I turned my face away! And still my horrors continued!
The game became unsprung, every action its own mockery of itself, the tentacular horde in the stands howling for the blood of the visitors. The Fire, accursed in this dream, slunk away from the edges and willed time to pass. One final humiliation awaited, as Henry - magisterial and calm even in Lethe's madness - set up Johnny Steele for a tap-in. The crowd's howling became a rhythm, a rhythm that never quite settled into a comfortable pattern, working instead at odds with the regular tempos of breath and blood; and there, in that eldritch pit, did the words resolve themselves into the incantation of greatest horror:
New York Red Bulls, Supporters Shield Champions.
I awoke, sweat-covered, dry-mouthed and shaken. "It's 2014," I said. "It's 2014." Holding myself tight and rocking seems to help.
For the Chicago Fire, it is 2014. Even before the nightmare, the end result wasn't quite good enough. After the first 30 minutes, the final game of 2013 was all New York. A cf97 squad that knew what it needed couldn't rise up and take it.
snatched the Golden Boot secured second in the scoring leaders table by lashing in his 21st goal of the season off a Dilly Duka rebound, then didn't get a good look on goal again. Henry tied the game with an almost contemptuous bit of skill, using the yard of space Peguy Luyindula's run and pass had given him to smash a volley into the top corner from 21 yards.
And then came the half, and the team fell down a rift in space into an unknown hell-dimension. Survivors and their stories will be determined through press releases in the weeks and months to come.
Edit: The first of those press releases may arrive sooner rather than later. Guillermo Rivera, of the well-regarded Chicago Fire Confidential, is reporting:
Hearing that Javier Leon may be out as President of Soccer Operations. Stay tuned to Fire Confidential— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) October 27, 2013
Javier Leon was the person said to be primarily in control of player acquisition since Frank Klopas' move to the sideline.