There's this moment in every great relationship when, everything having gone swimmingly so far, one finds oneself trying to keep Hope, that great white whale, from taking over the entirety of one's critical faculty. Choirs of angels attend the merest pleasantries, singing (prematurely) of the happiness which lies just there, over the horizon. It's like the buzz after a particularly fantastic first date: All crackle and zap, every signal a promise of even greater potential.
So this is where Fire Nation finds itself in this blustery, tempestuous late winter: Thrumming at the approach of the (not yet!) beloved, visions of those lovely combinations, the flowing movement, the compactness, the coherence ... it's a lovely feeling, this languid anticipation, and not even giving up the first goal in over 400 minutes of scrimmages has dispelled it. Under Frank Yallop, CF97 is still unbeaten and untied, and moods are rising like gravity's been reversed. Wednesday, the Fire opened their four-game stay in Arizona with a 2-1 win over Colorado.
The Fire ran out a lineup composed of - supposedly - second-stringers, and comprehensively stonked a decent Colorado XI en route to a 2-0 halftime lead. Trialist Grant Ward got the first goal, a highlight-reel golazo cross/shot off of a combination with Benji Joya off the right shoulder of the penalty area. The second fell to Quincy Amarikwa to tap in after a multi-touch scramble which saw both center backs - Austin Berry and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado - whacking shots which the Rapids blocked.
The goals were just reward for a half the Fire increasingly dominated. After the first 10 minutes, Chicago's midfield made life very difficult for Colorado, playing a fluid and aggressive brand of fútbol, swarming forward to harass poor touches then combining at all angles once the ball was won. 'The kids,' as Jeff Crandall called them on the stream, also played their games with an expressionist swagger both exuberant and joyful. If the first team is any improvement on this group, we are in for some happy times in Chicago.
The second half was a different challenge - Colorado substituted several starters, including Designated Player Gabriel Torres, to take the game to the Fire's tiring second string. The Berry/Hurtado partnership played extremely well for the most part, but a giveaway in midfield put Torres in behind them, and the shutout streak was no more. (Tiny fists were shaken in Crandall's direction, as he CLEARLY JINXED THE TEAM during the broadcast.)
Chicago plays FC Tucson Saturday at 2 p.m. CST in what should be a solid 60 minutes for the starting XI.
Chicago Fire 2 – 1 Colorado Rapids
Chicago Fire: Kyle Reynish; Austin Berry, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Parker Walsh^ 63’), Hunter Jumper; Thomas Piermayr^, Logan Pause ©, Victor Pineda, Benji Joya, Harry Shipp (Yazid Atouba 63’); Grant Ward^, Quincy Amarikwa (Giuseppe Gentile 63’)
Subs not used: Alec Kann, Marco Franco*
* - 2014 MLS SuperDraft Pick
^- Guest Player
Colorado Rapids: John Berner (Joe Nasco 46'); Albert Edward (Nathan Sturgis 46'), Jared Watts (Marvell Wynne 46'), Drew Moor (Grant Van De Casteele 46'), Chris Klute (Dillon Serna 46'); Juan Guzman (José Mari 46'), Samuel Galindo (Edson Buddle 65'); Vicente Sanchez (Marvin Chavez 46'), Marlon Hairston (Kamani Hill 46'), Charles Eloundou (Nick LaBrocca 46'); Deshorn Brown (Gabriel Torres 46')
CHI – Grant Ward (Benji Joya) 37’
CHI – Quincy Amarikwa (Austin Berry) 40’
COL – Gabriel Torres (Dillon Serna) 68’
COL – Jose Mari (caution) 75’
- Austrian trialist Thomas Piermayr was impressive at right back - calm, decisive and adept in possession. His positioning was on point and he cracked a terrific shot on goal in the second half, wrong-footing Chris Klute as he turned infield and hit a near-post screamer which was saved. No idea where he'd fit in the cap picture, which is understood to be very tight; good news is the team has plenty of international slots, so that's not an issue.
- Yazid Atouba was fantastic at times in the second half playing on the right. The winger showed a terrific burst of speed with the ball at his feet, and combined surprisingly well through the middle when he and Ward would swap positions, which they did frequently.