If this game is played two months ago, the Fire lose 3-0 - Berry's gaffe opens the floodgates. If it's played one month ago, it ends in a 1-1 draw as Chicago can't find any joy going forward except for the spot kick. Fortunately for us, this game was played by the Chicago team of right now, so neither of those futures holds. This Fire team continued its positive evolution Wednesday evening at Toyota Park, putting in a pragmatic yet resourceful performance to defeat Colorado, 2-1.
Chicago fell behind, as they are wont to do, after DeShorn Brown's 17th-minute breakaway off Austin Berry's mistake, then came back (as they are also wont to do) with a Mike Magee penalty in the 22nd and, Hollywood-style, a back-post header by Berry.
The teams presented contrasting styles from the start - the Rapids favoring possession with the Fire more direct. Chicago had the better chances in the early exchanges, with Patrick Nyarko the catalyst. The Fire always seem to find a way to make things difficult, though, and this game's difficulty began with Austin Berry dithering on a simple pass while under pressure.
The game was 17 minutes along when Colorado's DeShorn Brown stepped into Berry 40 yards from goal. The second-year centerback, seemingly undecided whether to play along to Bakary Soumare or back to Sean Johnson in goal, did neither for a touch, allowing the powerful Brown into the tackle. Berry was caught wrong-footed and couldn't shield the ball, so ensued a flickering half-second strength battle won rather easily by the powerful Brown.
The play happened too quickly for cover, so Brown glided in unmolested on Johnson in goal. His simple finish from 18 yards made it 0-1, and put the Fire into their familiar (comfortable?) comeback mode.
Just more than five minutes later, it was even again. In the 22nd, Dilly Duka ran down a ball in the left corner, then nutmegged the onrushing Brian Mullen to find acres of space goal-side. Marvell Wynne used his otherworldly pace to close down Duka, but his panicked, two-footed tackle was a clear foul in the area, giving Chicago a penalty kick with a chance to tie the game.
Up stepped Mike Magee, looking for a goal in his fifth straight game since joining the Fire. Forward went Magee toward the ball on the spot. Lunging went Clinton Irwin, sprawling to his right, expecting the ball rifled toward a corner. But the ball did not rifle, or blaze, or scream - it floated, and feathered, and teased: A chip, for the love of god. Magee chipped it, ever so delicately, into the opposite side of the goal, beating Irwin every way possible with this one shot: For speed, for placement, and for anticipation. 1-1 in the 25th minute.
Berry grabbed the winner just after halftime. Chicago came out of the locker room energetically, clearly hoping to turn their advantage in chances into an advantage on the scoreboard. In the 47th, Colorado couldn't clear a corner and the ball fell to Jeff Larentowicz on the left wing. Big Red took a touch to let the runs cycle, then cranked in a curling back-post cross.
Berry, still forward from the corner, was the second Fire runner on the back post, and the Rapids marking couldn't keep up. The centerback was relatively unmolested as he crunched his flying header down and to the back-post for a lead Chicago would never relinquish.
The victory moves the Fire to 4-7-3, 15 points, good for 8th in the East. Colorado falls to 5-6-5, 7th in the West. Chicago travels to traditional rival Columbus for a league match on Saturday.
Many ways to play: Under Frank Klopas, the Fire are not designed on the Barcelona template. In other words, the Fire do not play keep-away - they play going-at-goal. Chicago's directness can be frustrating (especially when the backline plays aimless balls all over the pitch), but watching the team stream upfield can be exhilarating when it works.
Nyarko in beast mode: Obviously Patty can dribble with the best of him - the tricks he pulls to keep possession are worth the price of admission. It was the defensive side of his game that drew the eye Wednesday - Nyarko popped up all over the right and middle portions of the pitch, winning balls with anticipation and tenacity. If he keeps adding pieces to his overall game at this pace, we may have to fend off suitors for his signature in the offseason. On last night's evidence, he's the best player on the field.
Need that security blanket: Our defense has solidified greatly since Soumare's arrival, but they are very dependent upon an anchorman cleaning up in front of them. One particular play, in the 53rd, illustrated this - Larentowicz followed Rivero to the sideline but didn't win the ball, and suddenly there's Soumare and Berry looking very "oh who turned the lights on?" The sequence wasn't innocuous, either - it led to Buddle banging a screamer off Sean Johnson's left upright, the Rapids' best chance after falling behind.
Magee in pain: I know I'm not the only person who fretted about Magee's health after he took a knock late in the first half. He did come back out and play 26 minutes in the second, but he was holding the same area when he left (his lower back on the right side) as was injured in the first-half collision. Here's to hoping our talisman is okay.