It still hurts to think about. I was standing at my usual place in the Harlem End. I had endured another 1-1 stalemate and watched the Fire miss opportunities throughout the match even though they once again had a better look than their opponent. Even with Amarikwa sent off in the 73rd the Fire were still finding a few chances to score but once again were not capitalizing. As the penalty was drawn in the 90th minute I reserved my excitement. After all, I had see the Fire blow a penalty in stoppage time already this season so I was going to wait until the ball hit net before if made my celebration. When I saw Juan Luis Anangonó step up to take the penalty I nearly threw myself on the ground like a child having a tantrum. "Anangonó" I screamed to anyone near-by who would listen. "He's going to give the kick to Anangonó!." Even though rationally I could see that Anangonó demanded the opportunity, I was ready to assign blame to Frank Yallop, Jeff Larentowicz or anyone else who crossed my path.
The frustration and fear that had percolated in my head prior to the kick had soon become a reality as Anangonó kicked an uninspiring ball directly at Bobby Shuttleworth, the New England keeper. The match was over and the Fire were doomed to a sixth consecutive draw to tie the MLS record.
My dread only increased as I shuffled my feet over to the concession stands for a snack before the Red Stars match began. With the long bye week to come I would have to wait at least two weeks to finally see the Fire play and walk away feeling the elation of a win. As I stuffed a bratwurst down my gullet and thought back, I realized I could not even remember the last time I had watch the Fire win in MLS play. I realized how much I was missing that warm feeling of hope and the feeling of power that comes from watching the club that I love succeed.
I tried to think of when it last was. The memory wouldn't come back to me at first. It seemed so long ago since the Fire's last MLS win. Then it hit me. It was back in the bitter fall chill back when the Fire were hanging on to a competitive chance in a congested MLS playoff race of 2013 - all the way back on October 19th, 2013 at 7:30 in the evening. Ok, dramatics aside, it was only one game prior to the end of last season. Still that is a long time to go without the elation of a Chicago Fire success.
At the time the Fire were in the heart of the playoff race. They were coming off a two-match win streak and fans felt good about the odds that the Fire would wind up in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Even though there was precious little room for error, there were several combinations that led to success if others faltered and the Fire did not.
Optimism was rising. The Fire were taking on a weak Toronto side at home. The match went back and forth. Both clubs had their chances but neither could seem to break through. Keeper Sean Johnson kept the Fire in the match on multiple occasions protecting the goal admirably. Finally the Fire were awarded a penalty in the 63rd minute after a Mike Magee free kick struck the arm of Jonathan Osorio as he stood in TFC's wall within the box. Unlike Anangonó in our most recent fixture, Magee converted his chance (a beautiful panenka) and Toyota Park roared with excitement. There were other chances on both sides, but ultimately the Fire held on and hope was still alive for the Fire faithful.
It was so long ago that I can't completely remember, but I am sure I felt the elation I feel after every Fire win. I am positive I walked to my car with an extra spring to my step and filled with hope that success was still within the Fire's grasp. How it felt though? That still eludes me.
The Fire could have still won a spot in the playoffs but due to the success of the other clubs in the race for the forth and fifth spot the Fire would need to win their last match on the road in New Jersey. Ultimately the Fire would go on to lose that fateful match against the New York Red Bulls. That October day at Toyota Park would be the last time up until present day that I would see the Fire win in MLS play.
So what does all of this doom and gloom mean? Clearly the Fire are not going to continue drawing from here to eternity and this feeling will pass. The Fire WILL win again. Even though the results have been discouraging it is not time to write off the season. As Jeff Engelhardt pointed out in his April 23rd roundup even though very few clubs make the playoffs after starting the season with only six points, there has been a glut of draws in MLS this season. With a well-timed winning streak the Fire could easily get right back into the thick of things. However rationale does not heal all ailments and the wound of yet another draw still hurts. Enduring that pain and frustration through the two weeks of a bye week has been especially hard.
Before the start of the season I wrote a piece where I expressed my optimism in the ability of Frank Yallop to get the most out of his roster of young talent and veteran experience. As far as his approach is concerned, I have not wavered much in my optimism. Sure, I have questioned some of his calls, such as some substitutions (Logan Pause) and choices for penalties (Anangonó - assuming he was involved in that decision at all). However on a day-to-day basis I simply do not know what goes into each decision or how a player looked in practice that week. While we live in an era of fans questioning every call, it is likely unfair to judge in retrospect each decision.
I am also rational in my assessment of Yallop. It is always going to difficult to judge positively a head coach who has not achieved a win in seven matches. It makes sense that fans will start questioning his approach at inspiring Fire players to push that extra little bit that can turn a draw into a win. It makes complete sense to question what he has done to try and prevent those one or two defensive errors that keeps the Fire's opponents in the match.
However, on a whole I do feel that Yallop's approach has improved the play on the pitch, and the club has shown more competence under his leadership. He believed in Quincy Amarikwa when many were saying that he is a late match substitution at best. We all have seen how that has turned out for the Fire. In addition he has not been afraid to use young players such as Benji Joya or Harry Shipp to get results. By using youthful players and a high-energy approach to attacking, the Fire have found a way to control the pace of the game more and have seemed stronger on the attack. Yallop's plan seems more cohesive than last year, using more of the strengths of the players he has and less of a dogmatic approach than was utilized last season. It is clear that Mike Magee will continue to help lead this team even if he will not be the superstar we saw last season.
Disappointment at a sixth consecutive draw aside, I still believe the results will follow even if it does not feel that way right now. The pieces are in place but the Fire just need to find that checkmate goal that puts them over the top of their opponent. Eight consecutive matches without a win can frustrate anyone but the Fire are just a little luck and a few less mental errors away from a competitive win.
It would be easy to give into despair. Some fans are ready to start sporting their neck ties and turn it into a joke. I try to look on the positive side. The Fire have proven that they are a tough team to beat in 2014. They have not rolled over for anyone. Now the Fire need to prove that they can still win. I am one fan who is ready to be filled by the ecstasy that washes over me when the Fire win. I just have to wait out the rest of this bye week to see them try.