Well, well, well, look what we have here. It’s a midweek game against D.C. United. Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane, shall we?
June 3rd was a Wednesday just like today and the Chicago Fire was fresh off a cracking 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact. Optimism was slowly growing and a road game against the Eastern Conference leaders was a fitting test to see if the Men in Red were ready to turn a corner.
For the first 45 minutes, it looked like Chicago may not just get a respectable road point, but perhaps all three in a statement win. David Accam was scintillating in the first half, punishing a well-regarded backline and finally getting his goal in the 28th minute. Everything seemed great but then halftime happened and I assumed it went something like this in the D.C. locker room:
Ben Olsen: OK guys, great half, it’s just what Fabian wanted. So Fabian, I know you didn’t feel like it would really be a fair challenge for you to take the field against the Fire with a 0-0 scoreline, but are you cool with a 1-0 deficit?
Fabian Espindola: I honestly think I would have been up to overcoming a 2-0 deficit in 45 minutes, but yeah I’m ready. Thanks guys for doing that for me in the first half, you all are going to make me look really great in my return here.
So Fabian Espindola subbed on to start the second half and destroyed absolutely everything en route to creating a bazillion chances and notching two assists in a 3-1 come-from-behind win. The crushing defeat led to more crushing defeats as the Fire have gone on to lose three in a row.
To end the terrible tailspin, the Fire will have to overcome a whole bunch of challenges , not the least of which is a potential 90-minute outing from the aforementioned Espindola. The Fire will be without their biggest bright spot from the first meeting in David Accam whose speed was crucial in breaking up the D.C. backline. Chicago will also be without Shaun Maloney because of awful things happening around his spine and Matt Polster because he really enjoys smashing people who run by him, which actually would come in handy against Espindola.
So what do the Fire need to do tonight to win this match at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park while simultaneously celebrating society’s gradual and long overdue acceptance of the LGBT community? Focus.
It sounds simple but the Fire’s biggest problem has been devastating mental lapses on the defensive end. D.C. is not as potent at organically creating chances as other teams but they are patient and will feast on any mistake their opposition makes.
The Fire also need to be physical and frankly play a little ugly. Espindola is fantastic but one of his great weaknesses is his desire to shove referees. If Fire defenders nag and annoy Espindola, he may lose focus and let the frustration get the better of him. Even if he doesn’t push a referee this time around, any efforts to take him out of his comfort zone can only help.
There is also the situation with Fabian’s right-hand man in Chris Rolfe. The name sounded so familiar and after a little research, I saw this Rolfe fellow actually played in 209 matches with the Fire. It turns out after the Fire traded him, Rolfe has gone on to do some great things. Since the trade, Rolfe has tallied 12 goals and 9 assists, which is more than any other Fire player during that time span according to Fire encyclopedia Jeff Crandall.
It will also be the first time Rolfe has played in Toyota Park since the trade, so extra motivation and whatnot. He could also be hard to stop. I personally am hoping he just has nostalgic moments and passes to Mike Magee by mistake to set up some Fire goals.
Speaking of Magee, he looks ready to play and he is long overdue for a statement performance, which is great news. But it has been so long since Magee has been asked to carry the load it would be impossible to forecast what to expect from the former MVP.
Sean Johnson is also expected to be back in goal, which is good news. Jon Busch has not been awful but he also had one of his shakier performances against D.C. back on June 3rd.
Aside from those two positive developments, there is a whole lot of uncertainty and uneasiness going into this home match. Does Jeff Larentowicz move into Polster’s position while Eric Gehrig slides into a centerback role? Doe Chris Ritter start after a good showing in the U.S. Open Cup? Does a striker actually, you know, strike a goal?
I feel worse about this game than I did the June 3rd match, which means the Fire will probably win, but I’ll say another 3-1 United win featuring a Chris Rolfe brace because why not.