It wasn't easy, like Floyd Mayweather's victory over Saul "Canelo" Alvarez was later Saturday night. It was contentious at times, infuriating at others. The officiating was poor. However, at the end of the day, the Chicago Fire finally earned their way into the the fifth spot of the standings - the final playoff position, were the season ended today - by defeating the New England Revolution, 3-2, Saturday at Toyota Park.
Fire head coach Frank Klopas had some decisions to make going into today's game. The Fire were coming off two disappointing results on the road and were travel-weary, which is why the starting XI looked a bit different then we're used to. "We monitor the recovery of some of the guys with the technology that we have." Klopas said. "The thing with this is that we traveled. Some of the guys were fatigued; obviously we can't make changes for everyone. What you saw tonight is that we have a good group and everyone is ready to contribute to play."
The changes were simple like-for-like changes requiring no tactical rethinking or modifications to the team's shape. Dilly Duka started from the bench, replaced by Joel Lindpere in Duka's left wing slot. Chris Rolfe also found himself with a seat next to the coach, while Juan Luis Anangonó started his first game at Toyota Park.
The lack of Duka bit the Fire in the behind early. After Lindpere couldn't run down a searching ball that the speedy American would surely have reached, the Revs got on the board on the ensuing goal kick. A flick on from Saer Sene found Kellen Rowe. And in what's surely a goal of the week nominee, Rowe launched a a 40 yarder that carried over the head of Sean Johnson and into the back of the net.
It would take a while for the Fire to respond, but respond they did. Anangonó got his first of the year, receiving a through ball from Lindpere - who up until that point was ineffective - the powerful Ecuadorian fought off a challenge and finished it low across the net. Revs netminder Bobby Shuttlesworth had no shot at it.
"I'm very, very happy with the goal. I'm very happy with the consistency of the team and I'm happy with the work that was done on the field to come back and get the win tonight." Anangono said via a translator.
15 minutes later, the game went nuts. Or, at least, the officials did, causing a general ruckus in the stands. Patrick Nyarko went down in the box, and no penalty was called. The official said, through a pool reporter, that he didn't see any contact on the play. With Section 8 still howling in protest over that no-call, Dmitri Imbongo blatantly handled the ball to control it. When no whistle came, Imbongo and Saër Sène bolted forward on the counter unmarked, with Sène putting a classy finish past Sean Johnson to re-establish the lead for the visitors.
The second half was brilliant for the Fire, though they didn't score right away. When they did, 10 minutes in, who else would it be than 'Magic' Mike Magee. Anangonó cannily set a basketball-style pick to open space for Magee, Nyarko slid the ball in, and Magee jumped on the opportunity to slot it home back-post with a single touch. 2-2, and all to play for.
"I was trying to shield the defender so that pass wouldn't get blocked and Mike could come in and just tap it in. Luckily it worked out and Mike could score for the team." Anangonó said.
From there, it was pretty much all Fire, as far as dangerous opportunities go. You knew that there were goal left in this game. And it took a curious substitution to unlock it. Alex came on for Patrick Nyarko late in the match, a move that perplexed most of us in the press box. Nyarko, by all accounts, was having a fine game, and didn't really look all that tired. But Alex made his mark - and off a corner, no less! The Fire have been particularly inept at scoring off corner kicks; before Saturday no Fire player had scored off a corner this year.
Alex received the ball off a failed clearance at the top of the half circle, settled it with a touch, and drove it past Shuttleworth at his near post. Fire 3, Revolution 2!
And really, no one knew how to celebrate. "My reaction was at first I was about to go nuts, " said Mike Magee "but then I looked at him and thought it didn't go in because he didn't celebrate. I was in extreme disappointment and then went nuts again. "
The Fire (11-11-6) now head to the second of two consecutive rivalry games, as they play Columbus in Fire House East next Saturday. A win could cement themselves as a playoff team, as the team right below them, the Philadelphia Union, sit idle. New England (10-11-7) slides to seventh place, but host cellar-dwellers DC United next week.