OK, first things first, I have to fess up. I don't normally do the recaps but I am going to get one out here and get some practice. Fire land is happy after the Men in Red went into New York and took care of business on Saturday afternoon. This is an even bigger result given how the Fire fared the previous two games. I think it's honest and fair to say that most of us would have been happy with a draw before the game. I was in that camp myself. Well, much to our surprise, the Men in Red trumped those expectations and came home with a resounding win over a very good and dangerous team.
The Fire got a boost even before the opening whistle was blown. Gonzalo Segares was back in the starting lineup at LB. I don't need to tell any Fire fan how big of a boost this was for the defensive corps. As much of a sight for sore eyes as Sega returning was, it was even better to see the pinstriped suit roaming the sideline. Of course that could be none other than Frank Klopas. No matter what anyone says, the Fire are not the same team without Frank down on the pitch. Although I won't blame the Philly loss on Frank missing the match, it was a big blow. Fortunately he was back and the team responded in a way that made us all proud to be Fire fans.
The Men in Red came out and took control from the start. While Chicago didn't have any stellar looks early on, the scales were clearly tipped in the Fire's favor for a large majority of the first half. What was a midfield deficiency in terms of space and possession in the SKC/Philly game turned completely around Saturday. Instead of the Fire sitting back and giving all the space to the opposing team, we were the ones to push the issue and put the Red Bulls on their heels. I think this threw New York off their game plan. Arlo White even mentioned on the broadcast that the Red Bulls had been saying they were going to come out on the front foot and push the issue. Well, with all due respect to them, the Fire instead came out, counter-punched, and hit them in the mouth.
The first half would see the Fire create a majority of decent looks. Patrick Nyarko caused problems on the right side against former Fire player Wilman Conde. In fact, Conde got a yellow card early, and it was my hope that he would eventually get sent off since it was evident that he had no chance of handling Nyarko. While New York had a great look in the 27th minute in the form of Thierry Henry, it wasn't meant to be. Arne Friedrich came out of nowhere like a ghost to deflect Henry's spinning volley and keep the game scoreless.
The defense looked very good in the 1st half and did a great job of marking the dangerous New York players. I don't think you could have expected much better against an attack like New York features. Other than Arne looking great, Austin Berry was calm, cool, and collected. In terms of the offense, I lamented Sherjill not getting much involvement (the 2nd half would surely take care of this). I also thought Flaco was poor, but upon watching the match again he wasn't quite as bad as I thought the first time around. To me it seems he is just really pressing and putting pressure on himself. This is affecting his play in more ways than one. He has not been passing well lately at all, and he seems a bit hesitant in recent games. I was thinking Alex might replace him at the half, but Flaco would stay in an elevate his level of play a bit before being subbed off.
The Fire would keep the foot on the gas in the 2nd right out of the gate. Frank Klopas didn't make any substitutions, but the Men in Red didn't miss a beat. After some back and forth action, the Fire would strike first. In the 65th minute, Chris Rolfe collected the ball at midfield, turned, and placed an absolutely majestic (or as Ray Hudson would say "magisterial") ball to spring Sherjill MacDonald in on goal. Mackie didn't waste any time and slotted the ball into the back of the net. And, by the way, the play was originally created by Sherjill's fantastic hold up play. This shut the Harrison, New Jersey crowd up and gave Fire fans a great bit of confidence.
After this, play opened up a bit more, but the Fire brought in Dominic Oduro. Given the amount of space in midfield that New York was giving to Chicago all game, it was a great substitution by Frank. Oduro looked better than he has in a while, and he helped build attacks and create chances. While the Red Bulls would also start to pick up the pace, Sherjill would put the proverbial nail in the coffin in the 79th minute. Daniel Paladini played an absolutely sublime through ball to Mr. MacDonald once again. Replays would show Daniel used his toes to create the beautiful, curling pass that would end up being goal #2. Sherjill wasted no time in slotting the ball away again for an absolutely huge insurance goal for the Men in Red. Despite replays and analysis by Arlo White and Kyle Martino, Sherjill was onside (just barely) and gave Chicago a much more comfortable lead.
New York ratcheted up the offensive pressure and had some very good looks, but the Fire were up to the task. I can't praise the defense enough today. The whole backline had a very good game. Sean Johnson also turned in a great performance that might go a bit more unnoticed given the fact he didn't have a lot of actual saves that he was called on to make. I thought that his decision making and ball distribution were very good today. He also seemed to keep the backline organized well. There were a few close shots to be sure that just went wide of the post. Other than McCarty's curving effort in the first half, Sean had most of the other shots covered with his positioning. Even if the ball had been on frame, I think Sean would have made those saves anyway. Fortunately they were just wide and we didn't have to worry about it.
In the end, the Fire left with 3 points, lifting the spirits of Fire fans everywhere. The Men in Red are on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot with 2 games to go. We face the New England Revolution and DC United to close out the season. I think Saturday's win helps to get the team back on track heading into the final 2 games. There isn't any reason why Chicago can't take 6 points from the next 2 games. If all goes well, Pavel Pardo should be back for the Revs game which would give the whole team a boost.
With the Fire on the doorstep of clinching a playoff berth, now positioning comes very important. Only time will tell how the final standings end up shaking out, but it's safe to say that the Fire are in the driver's seat at this point in time. With an international break looming, let's enjoy this win but get ready for the craziness that will be the next 3 weeks. As always, let's go Fire!