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Knee-Jerk Reaction: We Don't Deserve Playoffs; TOR 1, CHI 1

Fire can't impose will, settle for bland 1-1 draw with Toronto club ripe for the picking

Jalil Anibaba and Ashtone Morgan each played reasonably well, by which I mean they presented themselves as reasonable facsimiles of professional footballers, not that they were commendable in any way.
Jalil Anibaba and Ashtone Morgan each played reasonably well, by which I mean they presented themselves as reasonable facsimiles of professional footballers, not that they were commendable in any way.

Just so we're clear: The game ended 15 minutes ago. I'm writing this in a sort of blind fury, 3 feet from my wife, who is watching an episode of "The Challenge" by MTV. Which is to say, I'm not exactly contaminated with other opinions about the game at this point.

It's not like my wife, Sarah, doesn't watch the Fire - she does, usually. It's just that, y'know - Toronto. No one there. You can hear the coaches. Everyone showed up in a 4-4-2, and it was super embarrassing. One finds other things to do.

So, anyway, the game just ended, and this is how you know you're not emotionally connected with a particular team: Sarah's entertainment just morphed from 'passive and silent' to 'sensurround.' There's no moment of "Oh, my goodness - we really do suck! This is disappointing." I suspect if the tables were turned, and the team on display was DC United, it might be different. But DC is so bad this year as to demand disengagement. So here we are.

For me, it was different. For me, it was excruciating. The Fire looked terrible - terrible! - against one of the worst teams in the league. Said team, the Reds of Toronto, did precious little to impose themselves on the proceedings. Somehow, they still had half of everything - half the possession, half the passes, half the shots, and half the points. It ended 1-1, and felt much, much worse.

Perhaps the disappointment is down to simple fatigue. Presented with a road match against one of the league's real road apples, Frank Klopas wrote a lineup of unwavering sameness: SeanJohnAnibabaBerryBakySega, BigRed, Alex, Duka and Nyarko, Magee and Rolfe. A defensive block of five, a back-and-forth dude, and a four-man attacking block tasked with moving and creating.

Toronto, in contrast, looked like a team recently acquainted. They played in combination only rarely, preferring to play in bursts down the flanks - and yet, somehow, this was sufficient.

The goals came in a four-minute burst in the first half. By the 20th, Chicago was already growing frustrated with their inability to connect in the attack, and Dilly Duka - looking for MVP candidate Mike Magee - tried a chip into the area for Magee to run onto.

Magee couldn't get there, nearly hitting it with a hand then unable to reach with a lunging right foot - but it mattered not one whit, as TFC keeper Joe Bendik couldn't decide whether to play the ball or the striker, instead playing nothing as Duka's lob bounced past him and into the Toronto goal.

1-0 Fire; at this point, there was still every reason to be optimistic - Chicago was creating chances, even if they'd looked a bit moribund. But then came Robert Earnshaw's goal.

Here's my notes for the Earnshaw goal:

23 - Convey in space, [cross] from deep, S[oumare] marking phan[tom] far-po run, B[erry] mk no 1 nr post, Sega[res] slide pst Earn[shaw], clean finish 1-1

That's Soumare marking no one, Berry marking no one, and Sega a step late, as he was all night.

And that was it for the optimism - after that, the Fire lost their swagger entirely, surrendering possession to a team that didn't want it and bogging down into a half-chance-off with the half-chance specialists.

Then the second half - insane. No movement. Can't keep the ball. Larentowicz can't handle a simple switch how many times? My hands have grown numb. Is this a stroke? Or are the Fire just this bad? We looked like winning exactly never after the half. And the subs ... I don't get it. Rolfe is playing so well that we need to take another look at him at his second or third best position? Nice! There's a lot I'm missing here, I guess.

This is the knee-jerk. It's not meant to be fair. And maybe I'll rewatch this and feel that somehow, Fate turned its face away. But right now, watching that live and taking notes, it felt like the whole thing was right there - and we just couldn't be bothered to reach out and grab it.

Here it is in cold, hard agate:

Eastern Conference

1 Montreal Impact 45 26 1.73 13 7 6 45 37 8 28 15 17 -7
2 New York Red Bulls 45 28 1.61 13 9 6 44 36 8 24 12 20 -4
3 Sporting Kansas City 45 28 1.61 13 9 6 41 27 14 28 14 13 0
4 Philadelphia Union 39 28 1.39 10 9 9 37 38 -1 21 6 16 -7
5 New England Revolution 37 27 1.37 10 10 7 37 29 8 23 11 14 -3
6 Houston Dynamo 37 27 1.37 10 10 7 31 35 -4 18 5 13 -9
7 Chicago Fire 36 27 1.33 10 11 6 33 38 -5 23 6 10 -11
8 Columbus Crew 32 28 1.14 9 14 5 31 38 -7 16 5 15 -12
9 Toronto FC 23 28 0.82 4 13 11 24 40 -16 17 -2 7 -14
10 D.C. United 14 27 0.52 3 19 5 16 44 -28 12 -9 4 -19

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