There's something about midweek games on the west coast - a certain ineffable quality that comes when kickoffs happen 17 hours after one arises for the day. Or perhaps it was the low-grade fever I've been carrying around since Tuesday. In any case, it seems unlikely that - as I remember it - the Fire's 1-1 draw with Portland was actually part of a larger story involving Nicholas Cage and Idina Menzel as cop buddies searching for Cage's kidnapped daughter in the bowels of Providence Park.
I mean, I remember some of both things, but it seems unlikely that they were actually interrelated. Sleep comes upon one, and one deals as best one can.
Gaston Fernandez dropping like he was hit by a sniper to win a free kick? I remember that. (Although I may also remember there actually was a sniper, and Cage's snarling frustration at arriving to late to prevent the shot.) Michael Nanchoff skidding a free kick off Alex's noggin and into the upper 90? That happened too, right? Like, 30 minutes in or so?
Sorry, I'm still sorting this out. So Nanchoff did score the opener after about half an hour. And the lineups were mostly substitutes for both teams ("THEY KNOW SOMETHING!" Cage shouts into the camera after reading the lineups on Twitter. Menzel nods while looking worried. Scene.)
The Fire's hardscrabble lineup did little to bother the host Timbers from the run of play, but set pieces were another matter entirely. Michael Stephens' sharp service kept Timbers Army nervous, allowing Menzel's former-paratrooper-turned-terror-cop to interrogate a suspect at field level without drawing attention. Err ... I mean, setting up Chris Ritter for a wide-open header - which sailed into the stands - before narrowly missing Eric Gehrig on a near-post run. Menzel pistol-whips the feckless accomplice, who falls to his knees and bleats out a crucial clue; timely, it turns out, because Gehrig's near-miss became Norberto Papparato's can't-miss, as the Argentine - trailing Gehrig's run - was unlucky enough to nod the ball into his own side-netting. The howls of dismay from TA blended with Menzel's soaring soprano as she sang "Everything For Him," a song depicting her long-hidden devotion to Cage's character. And we were tied at one.
The second half played out evenly, as both sides strengthened their lineups with starters in the final half-hour. Shaun Maloney was particularly sharp in his short stint, seeming a threat whenever around the ball. Cage and Menzel left field level behind, winding ever-deeper into the ancient bowels of the old ballpark. The Scot's 30-yard screamer in the 83rd was the closest chance either team put on goal in the second half, biting downward but still just a bit high.
Menzel's capture by the antagonist was a surprise, much like the sprightly showings by a couple of trialists for the Fire. Shahdon Winchester, a winger from T&T, looked promising in a 30-minute stint. Aided by the midfield's more cutting edge with the introduction of Maloney, Razvan Cocis and Harry Shipp, and also by a man advantage created by George Fochive's red card - the Fire carved out several chances in the dying moments of the game. Was the bad guy Trinidadan? Or was that just the trialists? Or was the threat coming from a pile of TNT? A final chance would fall to trialing striker Albert Edward, created by his countryman Joevin Jones, but he couldn't get a head to it, and the game ended all square.
The muttering of the departing fans was enough to cover Cage's apotheosis - surprising the bad guy (who, ok, wasn't Trinidadan), he rescued his daughter and Menzel. The three of them leapt into a river-aqueduct below Providence Park and floated out to sea just moments before the explosives ... well, clearly that part was a dream.
Chicago closes its preseason preparations on Saturday against Vancouver. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 CST.