Sisyphus, in myth, was an king of Corinth who was punished by the gods for his deceitfulness with a geas to perform grindingly cruel task - push a heavy boulder up a hill, then watch it roll down again. Push. Roll. Push. Roll. For eternity.
The Chicago Fire, in fact, were Kings of the Cup who are apparently being punished by the football gods for flattering to deceive. After Wednesday's rousing US Open Cup victory over Orlando City, the Men in Red couldn't find the same form against a stouter New England defense on Saturday night at Toyota Park, when they meekly surrendered a late lead and were fortunate to cling to a 2-2 draw.
With the single point at home, the Fire saw their boulder once again nestled at the bottom of an increasingly-daunting hill:
|4||Vancouver Whitecaps FC||33||21||1.57||10||8||3||24||21||3||13||1||11||2|
|5||Sporting Kansas City||33||19||1.74||9||4||6||29||20||9||18||12||11||-3|
|6||Seattle Sounders FC||32||22||1.45||10||10||2||25||21||4||14||7||11||-3|
|8||Columbus Crew SC||31||22||1.41||8||7||7||34||33||1||27||11||7||-10|
|9||New York Red Bulls||29||19||1.53||8||6||5||29||23||6||14||6||15||0|
|10||Real Salt Lake||29||22||1.32||7||7||8||23||27||-4||17||6||6||-10|
|12||New England Revolution||28||23||1.22||7||9||7||29||35||-6||16||8||13||-14|
|14||San Jose Earthquakes||25||19||1.32||7||8||4||21||24||-3||9||3||12||-6|
|16||Orlando City SC||24||20||1.2||6||8||6||23||26||-3||12||-1||11||-2|
|19||New York City FC||21||20||1.05||5||9||6||24||28||-4||15||-2||9||-2|
Kings they were once, and young, but that was long ago. These Fire have grown habituated to Sisyphean labors; Saturday night, they did not sparkle often, but they were certainly full of will. New England, fresher by a wide margin, looked cleaner with the ball, but Chicago kept pushing.
Fire captain Razvan Cocis found himself at the center of much of the action. He spazzed away a golden chance off of a Harry Shipp corner in the 24th minute, crushed a shot just wide of the New England goal in the 60th, was saved from an own-goal by the post in the 63rd, and gave the Fire their only lead of the game in the 75th.
The sequence began with a half-cleared corner that fell to Joevin Jones. Jones froze two defenders with a series of fakes, but his shot was blocked and wobbled toward Adaílton, who headed the ball back across the goal to Matt Watson. Watson's shot was saved by Revs keeper Brad Knighton, but Cocis was there following the shot in, and his instinctive hacky-sack finish of a ball that looked to be going behind him set off celebrations throughout the stadium: 2-1, Chicago.
At that point, it really looked like that boulder was for once going to nestle somewhere above the foot of the hill. Perhaps we'll just pick up at this point and finish this boulder-rolling business tomorrow before lunch, Sisyphus doubtless thought at times during his eternal vigil. Birds were singing. Hearts were light. Perhaps Frank Yallop is onto something? Do you believe in miracles?
Nope. Barely two minutes after that, the boulder dislodged itself from its resting-place and waddled back down. It was nudged by Chris Tierney, who stood on his decorative right leg and spun a low, rather slow cross along the ground into the 6-yard box. The Fire seemed bewildered by this odd strategem - passing toward goal? What can it mean? - and decided the best course of action was to observe this phenomenon ... as it ... wandered ... to Kelwyn Rowe on the back post, who had the perfunctory task of tapping into a gaping net from 3 yards out to tie the game at 2, where it would end, the rock firmly back at its resting-spot on the bottom of the hill. Sean Johnson took a moment after the tap-in to expound upon the frustrations inherent in being the victim of vengeful Greek gods, or to excoriate his defenders, or perhaps both simultaneously.
New England claimed their only lead of the night in the 27th. Scott Caldwell burst forward from his usual deep position, taking what space the Fire gave him on a gallop up the left channel. His sharply-angled shot was parried away by Johnson, but fell nicely to Lee Nguyen to volley home cleanly from 16 yards.
The Fire tied the game up when David Accam did his blurring-faster-than-seems-possible thing (again), this time blowing New England defender Jose Gonçalves' mind by turning (in his imagining) a simple clearance into (in reality) a step-late arrival, a foul in the area, and a Chicago penalty kick. Shaun Maloney blasted the penal past Knighton, and the teams entered halftime square at 1.
Chicago (5-11-4) get a little rest before they return to their unenviable task - a full week at home after a murderous two-week stretch of games. Next Sunday, the Fire host Supporters Shield leaders (and old-skewl rivals) FC Dallas next Sunday evening. Before then, the Drogba saga should be completed; it's possible several other transfer-window shoes could drop; and the wounded - Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz - might be back in the mix.
One thing is certain: That rock is gonna be right there at the bottom of the hill when the Sons of Sisyphus start again.