If Shahdon Winchester doesn't get a contract - if the season starts and he's looking for work as a striker in the USA - then the Fire at least owe him a bonus. Give the guy a couple grand. Give him a place to stay until he finds his next stop. Take care of the dude, because he took care of you. Without him, you lose this one 1-0.
There's another universe just on the other side of Winchester's 90th-minute goal against Vancouver in the preseason finale - and it's an ugly one. In that universe, the Fire didn't have a single player score a goal since they'd returned from England. In that universe, they've played 450 minutes of football, mostly against has-beens or never-wases, and riffled the twine twice. In that universe, they look like a more-expensive version of last year's group, the worst in club history.
But that's not this universe. In this universe, Lovel Palmer won a ball by pinching into midfield in the 90th minute, then skidded a sharp pass to Winchester's feet, some 20 yards forward. In this universe, Winchester had a glancing half-thought to realize he had a defender rushing to meet him, and instead of killing the ball's momentum, he simply poked it into the space behind. In this universe, Winchester took two quick steps and lashed the ball inside David Ousted's near post to tie the game at 1 with just a few breaths left. The Fire leave the Simple Invitational with three draws on the trot; not the results they were looking for, certainly, but better than the nearby-universe's alternative.
Vancouver had taken the lead on a play that seemed a familiar echo of failures past: A corner half-cleared, the second-chance ball not challenged well, and a goal. This time it was Russell Tiebert finding Pa-Modou Kah hanging just on the edge of an offside infraction, and after 31 minutes of play that favored the Fire, the Men in Red trailed, 1-0.
The week ahead will certainly feature a great deal of discussion about topics ranging from the Fire's best XI, to whether the 2015 season will take place, to whether MLS is the proper vehicle to take American soccer to the next level. It will surely be interesting.
I'll say more about this game in the comments, surely. But the bitter truth of this game is that the Fire were fortunate to get the draw, and we've not shown any intention to dominate the run of play. In this universe, we've made some improvements, but the question remains: Will it be enough?