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MLS #10 - PHI 1, CHI 0: Fire guttering in another scoreless loss

Staggering start to season continues; mental lapse, turgid play doom team to seventh loss in 10

Le Toux's work in the channels meant a workout for Segares, who played well.
Le Toux's work in the channels meant a workout for Segares, who played well.
Jonathan Daniel

I was one of the lucky few for whom the drugs kicked in; presented with another 4-4-2 featuring Wells Thompson Naive DefenderTM, and Double Pivot and the Pinched-In Twins ... well, there is a time and a place for mescaline, and a slightly out-of-phase hypercolor (reachable through mescaline booster-stage) for this stuff here on this dissolving bit of gelatin paper ... today was the time, I was in the place, and the hypercolor was also on offer. I had a bit of rum ready at hand, and a small supply of Miller High Life - the Champagne of Beers. I was ready for kickoff, come what may.

Girded by arcane chemistry, I felt perversely buoyant in the early moments. The shapes were odd and static, familiar as a damp towel; I felt a mild tingling in my hands, and hallucinated an early corner kick. On this set piece - blood falling from an iron sky - some wizard or enchanter rendered our boys into spastic, two-dimensional cut-outs of themselves, and an shockingly 3D version of Jack McInerney ran through a crowd of his teammates (seemingly out of depth of field) to crunch home an early goal.

I was particularly struck by the way the blood-rain mingled with our two-dimensional Men in Red as they struck the famous Scream pose, hands cradling a howling yawp. ‘Facing the meaninglessness of existence while magicked into a dumbfounded two-dimensional state must not be a great deal of fun,' I thought. I realized I was hallucinating, and yet I could see the score: PHI 1, CHI 0.

The Fire, such early victims of obvious magical perfidy, labored manfully to get back into the game. Two-dimensional people, compared with their 3D originals, lose something crucial - a touch goes awry; a run ends too early, or too late; a slip lets the switching pass through. The field began to spin widdershins. Beneath the play-by-play, a growling voice chanted in a language I could not understand. Time slipped its gears.

Sixty-eight days later - the rum gone, the chemicals long since run dry; the High Life sacrificed to an interminable halftime segment - the official smeared the ichor from the face of his watch, raised an arm, and blew the game dead. The data-wave flowing from the laptop narrowed from an all-singing, all-dancing fugue in several adjacent universes - shapes with the ball, simple and repeated; shapes without, the revealed evidence of group intention, the ball weaving between - to a single point: PHI 1, CHI 0.

As I fell asleep, I thought I heard someone say, "Results, motherf#*ker."

Hallucination over?

Ok, I'm not Hunter Thompson. And I didn't have any mescaline. So this game was another game that sucked as an experience in time. We may look back on some aspect of this contest as a turning point - I don't know what it would be, but I have a healthy respect for the possibility of the failure of my foresight - but its actual experience, watching it as a Fire fan, was one of almost hallucinatory frustration. 1-0, them. Seven losses out of 10 games.

Somehow, the team took a good hard look at the 0-1 home loss to this same team last week and thought, "Heck yeah that's good enough! More of that, please!" Same rambling front pair, with Rolfe and Nyarko roughly splitting up the field, trying to drag defenders out of shape. Same pair on the outside of midfield, pinching and pinching into the space that isn't there in the middle. Same Wolverine back-someone else forward double pivot. Wells and Sega starting way high.

Strangely, given a week to ponder the problems presented by Patty the Mad Dribbler, Philadelphia was somewhat better prepared. For example, in one stretch in the first half, Soumare tackled the ball away from Nyarko 356 possessions in a row. But the Fire got the ball all the way up to Pat 356 times consecutively, which I consider a moral victory. ‘Sooner or later one of those is gonna work,' I tell myself, smearing the tears and mucus onto my cheeks.

I realize there is the narrowest of margins separating this group from success: A breath too many or too few, or too early or late; a step not taken fully, or too fully, or in slightly the wrong direction, and it all comes undone. The season is not over, far from it, and should the breath come at the right time, and the step land at the right place, the malaise can lift in the time between thoughts. But damned if this season isn't starting to look like a march made out of duty rather than inspiration.

There were moments of isolated improvement. Duka, in particular, had a chance to show the technical skill we'd heard so much of in preseason: His rasping 60th-minute drive was the lone real threat to tie the game, dipping and swerving until MacMath one-handed it over the bar. Nyarko was again tricky and full of running. Pause is having some success connecting with longer balls into the channels.

But over 90 minutes, the main impression was of a team composed of supporting players, unable to vary their patterns enough to make a difference going forward. Chris Rolfe has been replaced by a very lifelike facsimile of Chris Rolfe; this new one is filled with dandelion fluff and weighs 18 pounds. Neither forward could peel off into the pocket and dictate play; neither wide man could cause panic running at the defense. No one combined well enough to unsettle Philadelphia. And we zoned out on another set piece to drop all the points.

The loss drops the Fire to 2-7-1 on the season - I would usually write that 2-1-7, which gives a clearer picture of the situation. In 10 games, the Fire have avoided defeat three (3) times. Chicago has collected seven of the first 30 points of the season.