Welp, that was horrible. At least I don't really have to write about it.
Funny thing about game recaps in the Internet age - between YouTube, and MLS Live, and illegal streams, virtually every moment of MLS football that any interested person could desire is just a click away. You missed Vancouver and Seattle? Well, cue that stuff up, my good man! Want to see EJ's red card against New England? Hecks yawww, we got that right here.
So, sunny side up - if you care at all about how this game actually played out, you can find out for yourself by watching it on any of several venues. There's even an edited version released soon after the game - they'll call it 'highlights,' but don't get excited - which will appear immediately after this paragraph.
Which puts into question the idea of this story here, the one written on deadline, the one banged out in the leaden aftermath of this infuriatingly one-sided contest. What's it for, anyway? What's this story for, when everyone who gives even half a fart about the contest is a wrist-flick and finger-stab from watching it in glorious hi-def? Why am I here telling you that Columbus - f**king yellow team that they are - absolutely mauled the Chicago Fire Saturday night en route to deceptively narrow 2-0 win?
The Crew entered the game winless in their last eight and featuring a defense with zero (0) regular starters - but their makeshift backline was never seriously tested until the Men in Red were 2-0 down, and only rarely thereafter. Chicago's attempt to compress play by playing a high line was undone by a combination of sluggish pressure and Columbus' astute ball movement, which left the Fire's defense looking like they were caught in quicksand against a never-ending parade of Federico Higuain through-balls to the Crew's speedy attackers. And that was just the first 20 minutes! After which, of course, CF97 was down by two goals, and looking lost.
But what am I telling you this for? You just watched it, amirite? You watched Ethan Finley blurring past Greg Cochrane down the left channel six times in the first quarter-hour, including the first goal in the 10th minute. You watched Jairo Arrieta out-fight Patrick Ianni for another Higuain through-ball, then golf the ball through Sean Johnson's legs to double the lead 15 minutes later.
You watched Harry Shipp get his first experience with serious man-marking, in the person of man-mountain Tony Tchani. Tchani's tender ministrations included low-bridging Shipp on a header, the 6-4, 185 guy letting the 5-8, 150 guy go head-over-heels before landing on the back of his neck - but this was no thugged-out performance by Tchani, either. Given freedom to find Shipp by Will Trapp's cover, Tchani made Shipp's touches extremely hard to come by, especially in the first half when the game was still a contest.
You watched the Fire go a different way, disdaining any man-marking, thereby freeing Higuain to spin lovely balls into the yards of space behind the Chicago backline. You watched the Fire's few real chances end in squibbed shots or - in one glorious instance - an actual ping off the post. You watched Columbus passing crisply through midfield, while the Fire dinked passes in the defensive end and waited for a break. You watched the Men in Red make this almost easy for those Fellows in Yellow. You saw it, I'm writing about it, and so we're back to where we began - what's the point of this recap, then?
Maybe it's to record how it felt. Ever put your hand into a blender? Or get your thigh chomped by a shark while swimming? Or take a throwing axe to the chest? Or suffer dismemberment after falling asleep on the train tracks? It was something like that. Except, where it wasn't painful and horrifying, it was boring - Chicago alternated between defenselessness and defensiveness. Only horrible finishing in the second half prevented this from being the kind of 4-0 or 5-0 blowout which shakes a team's confidence for weeks to come.
If there's a positive to be gained from this game, it's that it's over. And it was only 2-0. In the week ahead, we'll have a post-mortem, and others will too; for now, it's enough to know that it sucked, and it's over. Don't be persuaded by people who look at the numbers and say, "Oh, we were a break or two away." We weren't. The Fire weren't. We were played off the pitch, against our closest rivals.
Of course, you know that already. You saw it.
- Perhaps the lone bright spot on the evening was the debut of Tottenham loanee Grant Ward. Ward's speed, touch and daring were all on evidence in his 29-minute substitute appearance, lending some vitality to a team which had seemed to fold up its tent in preparation for the final whistle. He's still not the finished article - witness his hilariously optimistic shot from 50 yards with about 10 minutes remaining - but he's only 19. In his half-hour, he created more than Dilly Duka had in the previous 60.
- To say Duka was disappointing in place of Patrick Nyarko on the right wing is to define down the meaning of 'disappointing.' Against his old team, Duka had a tough night, struggling to connect passes and seldom beating his man on the dribble. He did manage three shots, although none of them truly threatened goal.
- Jeff Larentowicz and Benji Joya were frequently overrun in the center of the park by the trio of Higuain, Tchani and Will Trapp. After Logan Pause was brought on to play alongside Larentowicz, there were less breakdowns, at the cost of whatever forward impetus Chicago had managed to that point.
- Juan Luis Anangonó was, once again, the nearly man. He's not good enough in a target role to supplement others, and not a clean enough finisher to justify his failures in possession. In the last few minutes, Anangonó was replaced on my screen with a galumphing graphic which read, "Seven-figure transfer fee," which I assume was a technical glitch of some kind.
- Harry Shipp's gonna get better because of this, but wow was he bottled up tonight. Tough game for the Rookie of the Year candidate.
- Stephen Kinney was ehh, a'ight, but judged on a very forgiving curve on an evening when Cochrane, the opposite fullback, spent most of the first half engulfed in flames.