There were times during this evening's lung-bursting, eye-clawing scoreless draw between our Fire and the burgundy franchise from Colorado that had an Of Plymouth Plantation vibe. This was football Puritans could love - mirthless, grinding seminars on responsibility and entropy, the possessions empty, the player's faces barely animated even when disputing a call. When the primary feeling upon reaching full time is "Well, thank God," you know all you need to know about the nature of the game.
Thing is, we thought this might be coming. The Fire have spent the first third of the season working themselves into a progressively heightened state of freak-out about their defensive problems. Sunday's tight-fisted draw against Los Angeles didn't allay those fears, apparently; Chicago's shape and emphasis were entirely defensive from the first minute.
It worked like a charm - the Men in Red's high line made the Rapids' searching, hopeful long balls into offsides honey pots; the crowded midfield, stacked with tacklers and space-controllers (four of the five midfielders are arguably defensive mids), made playing through to feet virtually impossible as well. Chicago destroyed Colorado's fluid offense as surely as squad rotation. This shutout, their first of the season, was hard-earned and fiercely won.
Thing is, the Fire forgot the other half of the game, the one that people actually enjoy watching. We tuned into a soccer game and an acutarial conference broke out. The tactic of lobbing to Juan Luis Anangonó was a failure at every turn, and trying to pick out Grant Ward running in behind on the right was nearly as futile. Benji Joya seemed overawed by the task of generating ideas, and settled for simply being the first-forward of the team's four d-mids. We seemed to be waiting for an own goal, or a defender to suffer a stroke, or maybe both.
Still, there were a few half-chances. John Neeskens, son of Dutch legend Johan, set up most of the near-misses in the first period - his rasping drive in the 14th was tipped just wide, and his cross in the 36th was only half-cleared before Charles Eloundou followed it to force a strong one-hand save from Sean Johnson.
The game just wound on, like eating bowl after bowl of unseasoned, slightly undercooked oatmeal. Occasionally a moment would surface seemingly a propos of nothing at all, like an unexpected raisin - Anangonó's nearly-there header in the 76th, Dillon Serna's similar chip in the 93rd. Then, finally, the whistle. Then, finally, relief.
The Fire (2-8-3) return home for the final leg of this Bataan Death March of a pre-World Cup schedule, hosting Seattle on Saturday evening. Colorado (6-4-4) visits Dallas that evening.