Overall, Tuesday was a good night. It took a while for the team to get going, but I felt all of the momentum swung to one side and never left after Celia Sasic sent that penalty wide of Hope Solo's net ... oh wait ... sorry; there was another match on Tuesday night. As the USWNT semifinal versus Germany came to a close, Chicago Fire kicked off against USL's Charlotte Independence looking for the right to face Orlando or Columbus (it turned out to be Orlando) in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup.
Just a few minutes in to the match, there was a collective "Oh crap!" from CF97 Nation, as Tomasz Zahorski beat the backline, Adailton in particular, and scored the opener by coolly slotting the ball past Sean Johnson. I thought, "Here we go again, playing down to the opponent. Now we will have a struggle just to get an equalizer."
The problem is with that thinking was Mike Magee. The 2013 MVP was starting his first game in '15 and proceeded to put a stamp on it as he deftly chipped an on-rushing Charlotte keeper to cap off a series of passes between Kennedy Igboananike and Lovel Palmer and tie the game up in the 37th minute. Then the momentum swung in favor of the Fire as they came out with a purpose in the second half - a welcome change after some sleepy second-half starts this season. A 30-yard rocket from Lovel Palmer saw the Men in Red take the lead in the 50th. Magee getting his brace capped off the night as he slotted a pass from Patrick Nyarko home in the 82nd to seal a quarterfinal spot in this year's tournament.
Let's hand out some stars
My first star of the night is actually a tie between Mike Magee and Sean Johnson. I'll start with Magee: His brace could be enough for the guy wearing the captain's armband to earn the spot, but it was also the way he scored those goals. The first one was a scorer's touch and it is something that has been missing from this Fire team - the way he was able just to get the ball over the keeper while running at full pace with a defender on him was a thing of beauty. The second one was just what a striker needs to do to get chances, run into open space knowing that your teammates are going to find you. Instead of making a hard run to the near post, Magee instead checked back knowing that Nyarko was going to find him there instead of at the front of the net. Chemistry goes a long way and maybe that is some of what this team is missing.
Sean Johnson made made 4 saves on the night. If he was not hung out to dry by his backline in the 5th minute this game could have finished as a shutout because Sean was on his game. Multiple times he was called into action because of mistakes or missed marks by his backline but he was more than up for the challenge. All four saves were difficult to make and I'm pretty sure that if there was another keeper in the net for the Fire, the result could have been different.
My second star goes to Lovel Palmer. Why he doesn't start more is mind-boggling, considering the goal and an assist he provided Tuesday night in the victory. All night he stormed up the right side looking to get into the attack, and he did just that. The soft through ball played to a sprinting Magee was near perfect. His goal was also a thing of beauty as he controlled a clearance from broken corner and then side-stepped an on-rushing Charlotte player only to hit the ball with pace and accuracy into the side netting. Unfortunately, he did have to come off in the 81st with what the club is calling a tight groin. Hopefully he'll be alright to possibly start on Friday night.
My emotional star of the night goes to Patrick Nyarko. After a long layoff due to injury, his first few touches were able to provide an assist for Magee's second goal of the night. Instead of the team going to celebrate with Magee, they all ran over to celebrate with Nyarko, with Magee most emphatic, carrying the Ghanaian on his back. Who can say that they did not miss that smile? Welcome back, Patrick.
My practice cone hater star of the night goes to Frank Yallop. Hey, Frank! It's nice to see you awake on the bench - even showing some signs of emotion! - but what did those practice cones do to you?
Up next for the Fire is a trip to Houston on Friday night to face the Dynamo, who also played and won Tuesday night to advance to the quarterfinals in the US Open Cup. Then Yallop and company get eight days off to rest for a stretch of 5 games in 14 days starting July 11th with a home date with Seattle and ending July 25th with a home match versus the Revolution. That stretch will really show what this team is made of, and if Yallop has truly put together a deep team that can compete in MLS and the US Open Cup as well.