Fate Turns Its Face Away: CHI 2, MTL 2 recap

A brace for Magee moved him within one of the league lead, but his penalty miss led him to declare "the loss is my fault." #armband - Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Magee's brace undermined by penalty miss; Impact cash on opportunistic goal to escape with a point after dominant second half for the Fire

Who knows what causes anything? At some level, we simply cannot tell. We build tenuous strings of cause-and-effect - man kicks ball, another man is in the way, the ball falls to a third man; he wills it toward an area, it glances off his skull. Who is the mover? Who is moved?



A very late Maxime Tissot goal, cruel counter-stroke for no particular failure, sent a rampant Chicago Fire tumbling to a 2-2 draw with Montreal Saturday evening. Mike Magee scored twice in a raucous, rippling second half to remember, but it was lost when Fate turned her face away.

The draw, snatched from the jaws of victory, sets up a turbulent, dramatic showdown for the final two Eastern Conference spots: Houston, Philadelphia, New England and our Fire; four teams separated by four points with four games left. Two make it, two don't; the two that make it play each other to stay in.

Eastern Conference

#

Club

PTS

GP

PPG

W

L

T

GF

GA

GD

HG

HGD

RG

RGD

1

New York Red Bulls

51

30

1.7

15

9

6

47

36

11

27

15

20

-4

2

Sporting Kansas City

48

30

1.6

14

10

6

43

29

14

28

13

15

1

3

Montreal Impact

46

29

1.59

13

9

7

48

44

4

29

11

19

-7

4

Houston Dynamo

44

30

1.47

12

10

8

38

37

1

23

9

15

-8

5

Philadelphia Union

42

30

1.4

11

10

9

38

39

-1

21

5

17

-6

6

New England Revolution

41

30

1.37

11

11

8

42

34

8

26

12

16

-4

7

Chicago Fire

40

30

1.33

11

12

7

38

45

-7

28

7

10

-14

8

Columbus Crew

38

30

1.27

11

14

5

36

39

-3

19

8

17

-11

If this is the beginning of the end for the Chicago Fire in 2013, they gave us a performance that reminded us of their best qualities - the determination, the fluidity, the play in combination ... and Mike Magee.

It's not like the first half was a washout. The Impact played intelligently, risking as little as possible; indeed, their discipline in returning to a sturdy two-banks-of-four was familiar to supporters of the Men in Red, who have seen similarly cunning performances as the backbone of some of the team's best showings this season. Chicago was able to create chances, primarily through the tireless dribbling of Patrick Nyarko, but none came close to rippling the net.

The insertion of captain Logan Pause seemed to create a logjam in the space above the backline. Pause, unaccustomed to either screaming forward to harrass deep-lying playmakers or playing a pass-and-move pivota role, found himself occupying space just to the right of Egidio Arévalo Rios, who seemed to need little assistance. Montreal midfielder Patrice Bernier was able to create overloads by simply moving forward, or not, allowing l'Impact to stroke the ball around for stretches in the first half. Still, the Fire looked unlikely to give up a goal.

The breakthrough was a bit of mundane extra-competence by Impact striker/genius Marco di Vaio. Montreal captain Davy Arnaud burst toward the arc from the left wing, and Jeff Larentowicz, in a cameo at centerback, stepped up aggressively into the familiar space just in front of the penalty area to confront him. Di Vaio lives on the back shoulder of the final defender, and shaped his run cleverly; Austin Berry was taken out by the Italian's initial spacing, which left him too late to get a foot in, while Gonzalo Segares, crashing in from left back, was shielded off the ball by di Vaio's body, which is to say di Vaio's run, which is to say di Vaio's mind. Di Vaio's finish was as clinical and emotional as a sniper's bullet: 0-1 Montreal, and the Fire's season on life support.

The second half found the Fire suddenly in a heightened state. Understandably, Klopas threw caution to the wind and swapped two players, pulling Pause and Duka for Alex and Rolfe; Rolfe would duplicate Duka's outside-in game from the left, while Alex traded his adventuresome attacking game for Pause's cautious space-minding.

Put simply, it worked. A winger's game always needs that last bit of cutting edge, and on the evening Rolfe had it. Duka contributed a rasping drive that tailed wide in the first half; Rolfe's first touch and play in combination allowed Chicago to pin the Impact back. The introduction of Alex was a tactical switch; his dribbling and strength in traffic put tremendous pressure on the center of the Montreal defense, driving in for shots from deep or creating chances with Rolfe, Magee, and Juan Luis Anangonó.

Inevitably, the name in Chicago red associated with this game will be Magee. His first goal was just reward for a period of Fire dominance. Rolfe pounced on a Montreal turnover in deep left midfield, driving up into space before giving the ball to Alex. Alex wiggled through a gap and cranked off a 22-yarder which was partially blocked, only to spin to Magee, the best finisher on the squad, who made no mistake with his open-net volley. 1-1, all to play for, and a rampant Fire had 33 minutes to grab a winner.

The goal pulled Magee to within two of the league lead (17), which was held by a certain Marco di Vaio (19). Of course, that goal was fortune - the ball spinning right, Magee darting into the space and adjusting, stabbing it down into the turf and past Troy Perkins in the Impact goal. The second goal, which pulled him within one of the scoring lead and, potentially, back into MVP discussions, was all Magee - dancing forward in inquiry, finding Perkins' touch wanting, and pouncing. Chicago 2, Montreal 1; DiVaio 19, Magee 18; the playoffs in sight; the weather sublime; Section 8 roaring. Everything right in the world.

The emotional tenor of the game was matched on the field, at least for a while. In the 78th, Nyarko teased his way into the penalty area, darting and weaving before finally being upended by Perkins, now auditioning for Nick Bottom. Referee Armando Villareal pointed at the spot.

We could pause here, if you don't mind, for a moment. We could arrest this game at this point and be happy, we in red: Ascendant, fluid, beautiful; leading 2-1, the best finisher on the team stepping up to the spot, everyone already feeling two goals to the good. We can still imagine the standings - fifth, not seventh! - which lie alongside those golden memories.

Magee's finish beat Perkins handily, despite the keeper guessing correctly, but it didn't beat the crossbar, cannoning out. The score remained 2-1.

Still the Fire poured forward - in one sequence, Anangonó created space for a shot which kissed the back post, then ran down his own rebound on the opposite side of the goal. Dribbling for space to cross, he found Magee arriving late in the area - but Magee's goal-bound screamer was cleared off the open net. A crossbar, a post, and a clearance - a trifecta of 'nearly,' and the pivot toward tragedy.

So, inevitably, the recompense. Chicago had been dominant, Chicago had been persuasive, but Chicago had not been ruthless, and Montreal made them pay. A searching nothing ball found di Vaio, and his hacked shot spun into the air behind Berry. Tissot, after a hard day of nothin' much at all, sprinted under it and gave it the gentlest of nudges to wrong-foot Sean Johnson and steal a point. 2-2.

If the double-team on di Vaio is looser ... or the ball an inch or two this way or that ... a man, covered well and conservatively, lashes a ball toward goal, and it spins, wildly, into another reality, and we follow. In this one, the Men in Red get one point at home, the auld salve for mediocrity.

The Fire (11-7-12) continue their seemingly endless win-or-you're-out tour next Saturday in the nation's capital, where they face league lapdogs DC United. Montreal (13-7-9) must travel to Houston, where a loss would drop them into fourth place.

Notes

- The experiment of Jeff Larentowicz at centerback was interesting. At times, it looked like he was under orders to move into midfield, like a libero, which if true should earn Klopas awesome points. For the most part, it was inspired - Berry focussed on tracking di Vaio while Larentowicz roamed around and destroyed. Without Rios, it could've been awful, but with him, with one notable exception, it was awesome.

- Pause did not look like he had a firm grasp on his role this evening, and that uncertainty seemed to creep into Rios' game. Absent the captain, the Uruguayan was his usual imperious self behind the swashbucking Alex.

- Magee finished magnificently, and he looked like a Chicago guy from whistle to whistle, but for me the Man of the Match was Alex. The Brazilian was strong in possession and in the tackle while creating havoc in the center of the Montreal defense. He and Rolfe - who was also very good in 45 minutes - combined well through the left side of the Montreal penalty area.

- Kudos to Klopas for putting it all out there. The opening lineup was too cautious, but Pause has played better in a central connecting role than he did this evening - thinking here of him at Philadelphia last year, the game in which he broke his ribs. Tonight, he wanted to play Anchorman Two: Electric Boogaloo next to Rios, and it was sometimes messy. Frank took a good hard look at the problems Chicago was having, and solved them with his subs, which is both humble and the essence of managing a football club.

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