There is this interestingly narrow set of adjectives one can use in describing a game like Friday's, a 0-3 goring of a young, promising DC United side by a desperate Chicago Fire.
"Gritty." The road win, a rarity in this tumultuous campaign, sends the Men in Red into the fifth in the conference - the final playoff spot, with three games left to play.
"Incisive." DC controlled the ball for long stretches, moving the ball this way and that - but when the chances were on offer, the Fire made it count.
"Lucky." Chicago were bailed out again and again by keeper Sean Johnson, especially during the opening quarter-hour of the second half, when the defense grew hesitant and the team's spacing came undone.
If the team I support is gritty, incisive and lucky, I'm going to be very happy indeed. Nothing but good tidings from this 90 minutes in the capitol, my friends: 0-3 to the good guys, and suddenly, again, the playoffs are in view. Suddenly. Again.
Juan Luis Ananagonó looked up for it from the opening whistle. Attacking challenges confidently, displaying a much tighter first touch, the Ecuadorian strong-man turned the game in the 26th minute.
The ball came in hot, out on the right wing beyond the penalty area, but his first touch mimicked a Cruyff turn, earning him a good two yards as he steamed straight infield. A Daniel Woolard challenge was solved via nutmeg, and the DC defense turned riot, with Anangonó the lone figure in control. His final touch put the ball in the path of Jeff Larentowicz, who settled his feet and lashed the ball against the far side netting. 0-1, with more to come.
And quickly! Barely 90 seconds passed before Mike Magee stood over a free kick deep on the right side. His hooking service seemed too low until Anangonó popped up again, stooping deep during a diagonal run to flick a header on. A clearance fell to Bakary Soumaré, some 12 yards out, and he struck his (slightly ungainly) finish to Joe Willis' right.
The goal was the first of Soumaré's MLS career, and the 0-2 lead it gave the Fire meant the game was, as a competitive contest, over.
If there is a team drill this Chicago XI excels in, it's the one where they control space and counter. They played out the rest of the first half in a shell, content with a two-goal lead and waiting for the next card in the tactical battle to be unveiled.
DC proved the wisdom of standing still, as the Fire spent the early parts of the half fending off coherent attacks from a suddenly rampant United, who'd changed nothing. Chicago tried dropping into their usual two-banks-of-four shell, but were undone by the defensive line's timidity in coming forward - the gaps between the midfield and defense were obvious enough to be a talking point during the NBCSN broadcast.
As a result, Sean Johnson got another series of saves for his growing, mammoth career highlight reel. He stopped attacks by knocking the cross away. He saved clever finishes to the back post, and point-blank blasts; bang-bang finishes in combination - when it's really about positioning - and curling sailers that look like they might just tail away from anyone, tail away right into the side netting, until suddenly there's Sean, palming it past the post and out for a corner. At current rates, the Milkman's career highlight reel will be solidified at 48 minutes, 22 seconds when he finally retires, at age 45, in 2034.
So the Fire sailed into the final 30 minutes, up two goals and backstopped by an unbreachable man-wall. And so the game ended, frankly, although Quincy Amarikwa's work in relief of Anangonó provided a reason to stay involved. Amarikwa's industry, cleverness and foot speed opened up a tired DC defense just before full time, boosting the final margin to three, a cruel spread for a game played so evenly.
Chicago (12-7-12) travel to Dallas next Saturday, hoping to cement their claim on a playoff spot prior to their final home game of the season. DC United (3-6-22) continue the first part of their 2014 preseason after a two-week layoff, visiting Kansas City on Friday, Oct. 18.