I don't want to stir controversy here - lord, no, anything but that - but perhaps it's time for the Fire to reconsider their halftime routine of pacifiers, fuzzy blankets, and white noise. Are the dimmed lights strictly necessary? Maybe ... and I hesitate to mention this ... it's time for a vaporizer ban.
Or maybe they were just tired.
With only their public dignity, continued professional progression and the possibility of fleeting glory at stake, Chicago responded to a first-half blistering from Philadelphia (thankfully, it seemed, fruitless) with a pronounced, if sleepy, yawn during their own time in control. Unable to capitalize on the few chances they hewed out early in the second half, the Fire fell to Philadelphia Union, 1-0, in the semifinals of the US Open Cup.
This was the type of performance that often precedes grim mid-afternoon press conferences involving ownership. The Men in Red have tumbled down the standings, but have occasionally shown tantalizing glimpses of the team manager Frank Yallop and owner Andrew Hauptman intended to build - aggressive, speedy, exciting. But during their times in control of the game, the Fire - the season on the line - were passive, static, soporific.
Come to think of it, perhaps the pregame acid is a bad idea as well. Chicago were clearly hallucinating. The Fire would swirl into possession, connecting and combining, then someone would pass the ball to Pelé, who was hanging just onside, or maybe that was Mr. Snuggles, he was my fastest toy.
Which set the table for some absolute domination from the home side. Cristian Maidana, particularly, was everywhere, as the Union absorbed the information the visitors were playing a high line, soaked up Chicago's early pressure, and began spraying long balls into the spaces thus vacated.
The Fire's early sprightliness ended roughly simultaneously with Gilberto's debut in the badge. In the 15th minute, the Brazilian went down hard in a challenge in midfield; by the 20th, he was subbed. It's hard to blame the Men in Red for losing their grasp on proceedings, though; how does one react to feeling cursed?
But the goal that won it came during the Fire's soporific second-half ascension. Grizzled warrior Seba le Toux, still pacy at 31, cut in from the right on his unfavored left foot, and spun a shot toward goal that he admitted on a postgame interview he "didn't have much hope for." The shot caught Sean Johnson shifting the other way, and glanced off the foot of the near post into goal.
The Fire threw numbers forward in madcap fashion during the final minutes, lending a festive clown-show quality to the proceedings. Nothing availed. Everyone's exhausted. The void awaits.