It was a beautiful spring evening, cautious optimism in the air, the sounds of Section 8 revving up for the match, and the beer was flowing. The night had all the makings of a David v. Goliath matchup; RSL coming in unbeaten in their first eight games, while the Fire have yet to find that elusive first win in their first seven matches. After waiting in line to get two hot dogs and four beers, my girlfriend and I nestled into our seats just shortly after the game had started. I made comments to her about how Beckerman sports the tangled mop head look, which she replied with "I think it's hot" and then I told her we're through. The night had started off well; hot dogs, beer, loved ones, jokes, and some Chicago Fire Soccer, but it was about to go from good to great.
After inhaling my hot dog and barely halfway through my first beer, something 'magical' happened: Goliath takes a big blow. After some lively play by the Fire, Harry Shipp drives a strong low shot that deflects off Rimando and, reminiscent of last year, Mike Magee was there to clean it up and grab the lead for the Men in Red. I jumped up so quickly that the hot dog I just took down almost came back up. Elation filled Toyota Park, Section 8 was even louder, and cautious was barely hanging on to optimism. The Fire were playing like they were the better team; cutting off passes, crosses flying through RSL's box, staunch defense, and timely saves by Johnson. Then a knock down blow was dealt to the visiting Goliath.
Coming off an impressive display with the U-21 Men's National Team, Joya returned to the Fire's starting line up and was playing like a man possessed. Joya receives the ball in the attacking third, dishes it out wide to Cochrane who crosses it for the unlikely scorer Anangano to head it in. After several poor performances coming off the bench and that PK that dashed our hopes a couple weeks back, JLA finally delivers. While the crowd rises to its feet for the second time tonight, there is something in the air. It is something that I am familiar with, something that I have felt before with my beloved Cubs in the few Octobers they have been able to play ball: it's optimism. The half runs out and the Fire head into the locker room up two goals and looking ahead to that elusive first win of the season.
I couldn't fight this feeling of optimism I had for the Fire. Up two goals at half time? Johnson looking great in goal? The defense stopping this strong attack? Our reigning league MVP scoring a goal? $2 beers? Who wouldn't be able to fight off these optimistic feelings? At half time, we rushed to get in line to replenish our beer situation and while waiting in line, my mind started to wander. Thoughts of this game being the spark that started the Fire on a tear through some of the league's toughest teams filled my head. Scrapping it out with last year's Supporter's Shield winning Red Bulls for a great road win, swinging back in to fight off defending MLS Cup champs SKC at home, and out to Firehouse East to knock the Crew down a couple pegs after their hot start. My thoughts stopped there as I had to focus on not spilling too much beer on my way back to our seats to settle in for an unexpected second half.
Got back to the seats right in time for the second half to kickoff. The electricity was still there with the Fire looking confident with a two goal lead. They began to sit back and defend a little more, countering when they could. Magee receives a long pass from Soumare, fights off his defender and nearly makes it a 3-0 game. Then Magee gets hit with a yellow card for a blatant hand ball. Then about ten minutes after Magee's shot off the crossbar, the small wonder that is Plata strikes for RSL. Goliath has gotten back on its feet.
After that first goal, I did not panic. Optimism had crept into my brain and I thought that this one goal would tighten up the defense and make sure they don't let this game go. It was looking that way when we closed in on stoppage time. A ball crosses into the box, misses Soumare, hits off the chest of Cochrane, lands at the feet of Saborio, and gets past Johnson to tie the game. A collective shattering of everyone's hope for that first win of the season could be heard. I threw my arms up in the air cursing another draw, but having that optimistic outlook, I thought taking one point from last years Western Conference champs was better than a loss. The goal was much more damaging than I thought. The Goliath that is RSL had finally fought back and broke the Fire trying to play David.
After giving up a two goal lead late in this contest, this battle was given five more minutes to decide a winner. Hope still alive inside some of us, prayed for an unimaginable winner for the weary Fire. Unfortunately, this game turned from a possible David toppling Goliath situation to a horror you hide from the sight of children. Plata drives home his second, and winning, goal of the night to disperse the Fire faithful into the night surrounded by a buzz of 'boos' filling the air. To add more insult to injury, we sit at the bottom of the East and are now alone as the last team looking for that first win.
I can't fight this feeling. When you stop being optimistic, that is when you truly lose. When the season began, I kept my optimism reserved with a new staff and overhaul of the previous team. While being 0-2-6 is not that start many of us foresaw, there is still hope and optimism. While we are still winless, it isn't by much. Two blocked PKs in matches against NYRB and the Union, and single mistakes that sullied great performances in Portland and Montreal. This team can be successful but they are going to have to prove it through the tough streak of teams ahead. I can't fight these feelings anymore and I don't want to, just don't make me regret it.