The Fire did not lose, though It feels like it. The Fire did not ruin their chance at the playoffs, though it feels like it. Chicago is actually in a better spot then when they started Sunday's game and not without hope; though it feels like it.
The cognitive dissonance Fire fans feel is enormous, and it has everything to do with how the Fire faithful witnessed a collapse Sunday evening at Toyota Park. A stirring, dominant first half yielded only one goal, and when the team went into a fearful shell late in the game trying to protect that lead, Houston predictably made the Men in Red pay. 1-1 was the final. It isn't the end of the world, but it sure felt like it.
La Maquina Roja had started off so wonderfully in the first half. Alex and Dilly Duka combined for some sharp one-twos in the midfield, and the Fire seemed to find through-balls available everywhere. There was a plethora of chances to put the Fire in the driver's seat. And when the goal came, everyone thought it was Chicago's day.
The Fire got their goal on a corner kick of all things. It was the first time all year, but semi unfortunately for the Men In Red, they ultimately didn't get credit for the goal. In the 36th minute, Mike Magee jacked it high into the box, and it went in what at first looked like the back of Jeff Larentowicz's big red noggin. But instead, It was off of the neck of a hapless Bobby Boswell who, as they say, knew nothing about it.
Chicago surely would have scored more in the first half if it weren't for the performance turned in by Houston keeper Tally Hall. To give some idea, Hall was hung out to dry by his faltering defense in the 15th, 25th, 35th, 36th and 38th minutes, only to bail them out each time. The Dynamo netminder ended the game with seven saves, and seems a clear choice for Man of the Match.
Something must be said about the struggles that encompass the 2013 season of Chris Rolfe. Multiple times today, before being subbed off for Juan Luis Anangono a/k/a New Fish, he had scoring chances. The most glaring miss was after a glorious bit of skill from the #cf97 fan favorite. After rainbowing the ball first touch over Jermaine Taylor, Rolfie hit a left foot right into the chest of Tally Hall. He capped off his nightmare of a first half by violently tackling Eric Brunner, receiving a yellow card for his trouble.
Rolfe was lucky not to have seen red, and the MLS disciplinary committee will surely take a second look at it. "He took a long touch, I saw the ball and thought I could get there, but I'm not a good defender so I fouled him," Rolfe said post-match.
Houston struck after 90 minutes were up - in second-half stoppage time - but only after minutes of near constant pressure on the Fire net.
"We stopped moving the ball," Gonzalo Segares said. "we couldn't put two or three passes together and get the ball back, so it was hard for us in the back to move the lines up so we could get back in shape and not just be sitting in the back like how it happened. It happened in a few games prior to this, teams start pushing to come back and it's just a matter of us in the back learning how to manage it.
"The line needs to move up and the guys in front of us to hold it and give us a breather because for 10 minutes they are coming and coming knocking the door. A lot of times we are able to hold them off, but today we couldn't. We definitely need to learn from it."
The goal was the fault of Patrick Nyarko, clearly. Moffat gave up the ball in the corner, and Nyarko relaxed and gave him the space needed to get the shot off. The ball eventually returned Moffat from a classy back heel by Cory Ashe, and returned Ashe's effort by a class strike into the upper ninety. But the fact remains, the goal doesn't happen if Nyarko marks Moffat.
Fortunately for the Fire, they remain in the same position as when they started the day. They're still tied on points with Houston, are only two back of New England and four back of Philly. Unfortunately, they now have to head to Seattle and take on the Sounders, a place where they never have won. A final bit of hope, there will be no Clint Dempsey, and no Eddie Johnson, and no Brad Evans - thank you USA!
Chicago (10-10-5) travel to Seattle Saturday, hoping to reverse all past trends and keep themselves in the hunt. A tired Dynamo team (10-8-7) has just a couple of days to prepare, as they play in Columbus Wednesday nigh.