Modern football is a game overflowing with thought, with data, with analysis, an exponentially-complexified fugue of communal sentiment, tribal instinct, and athletic genius of every stripe imaginable. It is a choreographed dance beamed to every corner of the globe, watched simultaneously from Indonesia to Indiana and everyplace in-between. It is a bloated commercial enterprise, suborned by the same forces which drove it to such prominence in the first place.
And, sometimes, it's just a whole lot of fun.
Today was one of those days in Chicago. The Fire, by acclaim possibly the worst assemblage of footballing talent in human history just 10 days ago, won their second straight game, coming from behind to best high-powered Toronto FC, 3-2. The Men in Red used goals from Joevin Jones, Shaun Maloney, and Jeff Larentowicz to surge past the visitors, who played the last 23 minutes a man down after Warren Creavelle's red card.
The game was played in wide bands of dominance. The Fire controlled possession and created several chances in the opening minutes, a spell that ended with Jones' first goal for CF97. It started simply enough - Jones and Accam had pressured right side of the TFC defense consistently; in the 14th minute, Jones stepped into Creavelle's poor touch and won the ball very deep on the wing. He found Maloney, who was running to show, and Jones' looping run was rewarded when Maloney back-heeled it to him; this bit of interplay put four defenders to the sword and left only the keeper, Joe Bendik, to beat. Jones made no mistake, finishing to the back post with the outside of his left foot: 1-0 to the Fire.
Unfortunately, the goal signalled the end of that bit of swashbuckling for the Fire. The visiting Reds, recognizing Chicago's focus on pressuring the wings for turnovers, used the space thereby offered in the middle as a safety valve; from the 15th minute to the 65th, Toronto had something like 70 percent of the ball, and the game morphed from a 1-0 carnival to a 1-1 squib to a 2-1 bummer. Giovinco got the first goal for TFC even before their period on top began, taking a clean touch inside the area unchallenged before scuffing a shot off Larentowicz' shin to wrong-foot Jon Busch just six minutes after la Maquina Roja had claimed the lead.
The second goal was prettier, Giovinco spinning Eric Gehrig on the Fire's right flank before centering to Benoit Cheyrou, whose clever volley left Busch dead to rights. Fifty-five minutes in, the Men in Red had blown their lead and were chasing shadows, their obvious quality in attack neutered by Toronto's keep-away. But like in the first half, a goal establishing a lead was immediately pegged back by a goal against the run of play, and like in first half, that would signal a change in the balance of power.
There's been a great number of photons arrayed in words describing the futility of the players wearing the Designated Player tag for the Chicago Fire; today is a day which will not add to that number. Shaun Maloney, Frank Yallop's 'key piece of the puzzle,' gathered Harry Shipp's immaculate cross on the ensuing possession; his lovely first touch took him slightly right, onto his favored foot, about 8 yards from goal on the left side of the area. Feinting and shuffling right, Maloney cut an arc away from the goal to find the moment, arriving at this beautiful golden serendipity: His shot, squirted just past Bendik's feet, was so thoroughly screened by traffic in the area that the Toronto keeper had no chance. Astonishingly, the worst football team in human history was back up off the mat just 60 seconds after the knockdown - 2-2, Chicago.
Section 8 was still going bananas when Creavelle ran straight through a Fire player for perhaps the fifth time in the game, a trend which started in the fourth minute. The former Houston defender saw his second yellow card, and the game turned into something of a cross between a fast-break drill and an early-spring street party as the Fire played the last 23 minutes a man up.
Nothing kicks off a party like someone playing a beloved oldie, and it's been a few years since we've seen the kind of vintage LARENTOWICZ ROCKET ATTACK that started the party right. The ensuing free kick after Creavelle's red card was perhaps 25 yards out, slightly to the left of center. Shipp rolled a little ball to his right to help Larentowicz clear the wall, and the captain did the rest, hitting the bottom corner of Bendik's net to send the Section into incoherent screams of pleasure. 3-2, Chicago, and would end thus, incredibly.
After that, it was all circus, as the Fire sat comfortably on the back foot and lobbed balls forward for blazers like Accam, Amarikwa and Igboananike to run onto. Chicago eschewed possession in favor of encouraging TFC to step forward, and the Section was treated to a sort of fast-break workout in the final 20 minutes. A hilarious side-story emerged as the supporters selected Bendik for special abuse following Bendik's push on Accam in the minutes just after the Fire took the lead. Not content to boo his every touch, the Section also fired up 'BENDIK SUCKS' chants during every break in play.
When the final whistle blew, it felt a little bit like an older time - a comeback win on a windswept day, a swashbuckling attacking performance, and the Section inside the visitors' heads. Chicago (2-0-3) enjoys a bye next week, and will return to action against familiar foes when they travel to Montreal on April 18. Toronto (1-0-3) also has a week off before continuing their extended road trip with a visit to Dallas.