At least - we can console ourselves - it's still preseason. I mean, the next game that counts isn't until, what, March? (And that's whistling past the graveyard with the CBA negotiations still pending - who knows when the game which count will begin again?) Sure, the score ended 3-3, and our guys coughed up a two-goal lead at home, but at least it was hugely entertaining for neutrals.
It was enough last night to see a team starting to gel together in advance of some more meaningful competition, just seven short months away - to see the guys keep the ball and create chances, to see the defense rebound from a very 2014 pair of gut-punches to stabilize and not get blown out. The Chicago Fire displayed a great deal of promise, and no shortage of will, and that is entirely encouraging.
Of course, they failed to win. At home. Again.
The draw is the team's astonishing 16th in 28 games so far this season. It's true that the team can now consider itself to be 'part of history.' Tifo idea: "A Tradition Of Mediocrity!" with a horizontal thumbs-up, a sort of thumbs-sideways. The Fire have six games remaining to set a new mark; who would bet against them finishing with less than, say, 19 draws?
And it's only preseason, remember, so it's not like it really matters. The Fire jumped on DC early; Harrison Shipp's presence as a free-roaming trequartista leveraged all the hard work from Matt Watson and Razvan Cocis into possession. Shipp's small touches and use of space lent the Chicago attack a fluidity it hadn't seen in weeks. The Men in Red dominated stretches of the first 30 minutes, and entered the game's second third up two goals.
The first goal was a simple matter of moving the ball quickly. Alex took a touch on the left wing and found Shipp at the in the left channel, near the top of the box. With his second quick touch, Shipp stroked a skidding cross to Amarikwa, catching the DC defense still rotated over toward the left wing, where the ball had been three seconds before. Amarikwa stabbed the bouncing ball onto his left foot and curled it around Bill Hamid for the lead. 1-0, Fire, and for once it looked nothing like a fluke.
The second was more fortunate, starting a trend of goals in which luck was a factor. Amarikwa - who was at his bowling-ball best for much of the night - held off Bobby Boswell in the penalty area, then backheeled the ball into space only to be barged down by late-arriving Perry Kitchen. Jeff Larentowicz crushed the ensuing spot kick deep into the right corner of the net, exorcising the memory of his miss last week and stretching the lead to 2-0.
United are not in preseason, it should be noted. The odd nature of this season has seen to it that the Fire - in former years always participants in the bacchanal of postseason - are now in recovery from that sort of wild living. Not so United - their party is just beginning; for them, it's the heart of the 2014 stretch drive. Once they found themselves down two clear goals to the No. 9 team on the Eastern Conference standings, they played like it.
They got some help, it should be said. An innocuous Luis Silva free kick in the 38th was half-cleared, and the ball that swung back was punched clear by Sean Johnson in the 6-yard box. During the play, Steve Birnbaum - sandwiched between Bakary Soumare and Cocis - went horizontal; the inciting incident was not visible. Still, Silva got to lash one home from the spot, halving the lead to 2-1, where it would stay until the half.
The help continued in the second half, in the form of a hilariously awful foul call on Cocis against Kitchen. DC's Indianapolis-born defensive midfielder tried something with the ball and lost it to the Hungarian, then - to cover the poor handle - leapt into Cocis' tackle. Fotios Bazakos bought it, and lined up a free kick opportunity which Silva immediately dispatched - beautifully, it must be said - into Sean Johnson's side-netting to tie the game at 2-2.
If this extended 2015 preseason has shown us anything, it's that set-piece defending is something the Fire absolutely must improve upon. Remember the first goal was a half-cleared free kick? And the second, a free kick? YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT THE THIRD GOAL CAME FROM. No, I'm sorry; you will! It was a free kick, not cleared, banged back in on goal by Kitchen - and then, when that was hooked off the line, in again by Boswell. 3-2, United, with 22 minutes left.
The most encouraging sign was that the Fire did not fold after giving up that goal. Instead, they surged forward again and again as the game's pace went from 'very quick' to 'frantic,' then from 'frantic' to 'panic attack.' Matt Watson strode forward into all the space the flying attackers left behind them, took a clean touch in the right channel, then belted a 22-yarder into the side netting to tie the game at three, where it would end.
It's hard to say how much of the surge in the final 20 minutes was from the subs, but we certainly saw a lot of high-priced talent competing to stay high-priced talent in the future. Patrick Nyarko, the familiar face, slalomed through defenders before passing to no one in particular; Robert Earnshaw made fresh-legs runs into the corners and across the face of goal without impact. The newest face, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, displayed flashes of the ability that wowed 'em at Prefontaine 13 years ago - particularly on one immaculate, field-stretching 70-yard diagonal ball to Earnshaw - but also the inconsistency which has kept him a journeyman. Further study is needed.
Good news is this isn't two points dropped at home; it's just a fun night of football as we all get ready for 2015. And that makes the whole thing go down a lot more smoothly, no?
Chicago (5-16-7) continue their quest for ALL THE DRAWS in the next 2015 preseason fixture, which will take place next Sunday afternoon in Houston. DC United (14-6-9) hosts Tauro FC Wednesday night in CONCACAF Champion's League play, then Philadelphia Saturday afternoon in MLS.