Two words I never thought I would say as a Fire fan this season: Clean sheet.
Two more words I was scared I might never say for the rest of the season: Three points.
Fire fans got to say them both after Saturday night's rousing performance against the New England Revolution. The Men in Red exorcised all sorts of demons in Boston by shutting out a team, finally getting a win and experiencing a victory on turf for the second time in a week.
There was a lot to feel good about, even with a rather pedestrian second half. The first 20 minutes of the game may have been the best stretch of soccer Chicago has played all year and no one made me want to rip my hair out.
But while it was fun to celebrate the rare victory, the team must understand it was merely a small step in the right direction of a still very steep climb to a playoff spot. Any let down against Philadelphia Saturday, meaning a draw or worse, would make Saturday's victory all for naught.
There are still areas to improve such as finding some sort of consistent defending at the left back spot and a combination of midfielders that won't get pinched back in their own zone for stretches of 20 minutes at a time.
So don't let the home crowd Saturday boys. Let us dream of an improbable run a little longer.
XI: Sean Johnson – The ultra athletic goalkeeper not only saved the game but he saved Gonzalo Segares from the extreme wrath of what would have been a severely agitated fan base in the event of another draw. After a steady flow of pressure, Segares took a bad penalty in the box and Johnson could care less cause he knew he was going to make a RIDICULOUS DIVING SAVE AND RECOVERY. Johnson made some other big stops throughout the game and showed – more so than any other time this year – why he is considered a USMNT contender.
X: Quincy Amarikwa – The charismatic striker got back in the scoring column by bossing the physical Andrew Farrell off the ball after a nice long pass from Mike Magee. While he didn't have a ton of chances, Amarikwa was physical all game and didn't go down looking for calls but instead tried to finish his runs. Quite simply, without him, the game was destined for a 0-0 draw.
IX: Bakary Soumare – The most consistent defender throughout the game, Soumare stepped up and cut off attacks early in the game and was back to clean up the midfield's mess as the game progressed. He marked nearly every run through the center of the box and even the best of services was not going to find an easy header because of his presence. One of his best showings of the year.
VIII: Lovel Palmer – The Jamaican was fun to watch if anything Saturday. He traded in his often errant crosses for shots toward goal and he did so with a surprising amount of quality and confidence. Still, his top priority is to defend and he did that well too. Maybe he should pinch in a bit more like Saturday from time to time and catch a team off guard. A Lovel Palmer goal seems like something we should all witness.
VII: Jeff Larentowicz – A man that was often the target of my criticism in the past has played well the past few games and I'm starting to feel bad for him. He was without a doubt the engine on the field, flying from box to box with all the energy he could muster. He just didn't get enough support from his teammates and became more ineffective as the game went on. Still, that effort will create some magic eventually one would think.
VI: Harrison Shipp – The rookie looked like usual calm, collected self when he possessed the ball save for a few rough touches. As the only one on the team who is calm with the ball, you hope for more creativity to lead to true chances. Still, it's hard to knock the guy with the season he is putting together and the fact he does look more composed than a handful of veterans on the team.
V: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – Solid game from Hurtado in the back. Wasn't called upon as often or as assertive as Soumare, but he generally did what he needed to maintain that clean sheet. The back line really received no favors from the midfield in the second half but he dealt with the pressure and didn't commit a fatal blunder that has doomed the team so often.
IV: Mike Magee – I've said it before, but the Magic Man is held to higher standards. He had an assist and that is generally enough to get a decent ranking here, but that's all he had. I don't know anymore if Magee is trying to do too much when he drops back or if that is Yallop's orders. If it is the latter, that needs to change yesterday. Magee needs to be further up and wait for his time to make his run. He can still draw defenders out without going as deep as midfield.
III: Gonzalo Segares – The left back on this team has a tough job because of Shipp's propensity to pinch in and leave the flank wide open for counters. Segares generally did a good job and made some nice recoveries. You cannot make that mistake in the 80th minute. It may have been weak, but he knows better than to be grabbing or extending his arms like that. Had that penalty been converted, it could have had major ramifications on the whole team for the rest of the season.
II: Alex – This pains me because I want him to succeed so bad. With the roster to pick from, I think Alex offers the best chance for some offensive push through the midfield. He has pace, but he dribbles like he is going to run through a wall half the time. His promising physical attributes are negated by his decision making and poor touch. It was a disappointing showing.
I: Matt Watson – He is quickly falling from solid utility man to just a space eater. He brought nothing to the game and was just sort of in the way. I think it will be sooner rather than later for Chris Ritter to claim that spot next to Big Red. And that is not necessarily a good thing. The team needs something more. Maybe Benji Joya can find a home there when he returns.
Chris Ritter – He came on and pretty much picked up where Watson left off, not really doing anything of significance. I still like the improvement I've seen in him throughout the year.
Matt Fondy – Play to the whistle. He thought he was offside, he may have been, but it wasn't called. Fondy stared at the goalie and then kicked him the ball more or less. That isn't going to get you playing time.
Grant Ward – Came on just to say hello. No ranking.