It appears that - from the perspective of an MLS Live feed from Flint, Michigan - the Fire are more adept at blunting supporter protest than they are attacking opposition defenses. Leveraging a slow weekend otherwise in Chicago sports, the Men in Red played in front of a fairly full house against Colorado Saturday night at Toyota Park; a Groupon promotion and a few league giveaways lent the stands a festive air of potentiality.
Unfortunately, the Fire treated Chicago to another heaping helping of mediocrity, surrendering a goal in the first minute of the game and then huffing and puffing intermittently for the next 89 to fall, 0-1, to another candidate for Worst Team in the League. Dillon Serna finished off a lightning counter just 48 seconds into the game, finding out-of-position right back Matt Polster too far upfield to bother Gabriel Torres' cross, and la Maquina Roja lost for the 12th time in 23 MLS games in 2015.
The game was preceded by a wave of angry fan protest, accentuated by the #90minutetailgate effort - which asked the various supporter groups of Section 8 to stay in the parking lot instead of chanting and singing their love for the club - and Martin Tomcsak's impassioned plea for a supporters' section wreathed entirely in black. And the signs were there, but so was the evidence of the front-office counter-punch: A Harlem End almost filled with large groups of younger attendees. The message: You may care, but you're passing; for a few free tickets we can replace you.
If that's the case, those wee minions got a fantastic introduction into supporting the Fire since their purchase by Andrew Hauptman: Failure, glimmers of hope, and a subtext that implies even those hopes are a product of one's own tendency to imagine bright outcomes.
How so? Let's imagine you're one of those unburdened souls slid into a general admission Section 8 ticket from a giveaway. You're there with some friends of yours from a youth soccer club, and this shit is so awesome. The warmups are like yours, but like a science fiction version of yours, the passes sizzling across the grass. David Accam is the fastest man on the planet. Harry Shipp can stop the ball with his mind. You see it happening in the warmups, and you just. can't. wait.
Welcome to life as a Fire supporter, inexperienced human. The game kicks off and you jump up and down a little, then watch ... you take 15 breaths, your heart pounds 66 times, and Colorado counter-attacks: 0-1.
Ok, 89 minutes left, let's go ... silence! The supporters who came in - or those on the fence who got free tickets and know the songs - sing for about 6 minutes past the unattended capo stand wreathed in black, then give up. The Men in Red toil on, not giving up but not convincing anyone. They have Accam and Patrick Nyarko on the wings, but somehow the Rapids' focus on breaking up play in the middle is frequently persuasive. Shipp is bemused by the tactics at halftime.
The whole performance bespoke a roster lacking in tactical direction - what's the plan? How do we play? As the game wore on, the players seemed to find their own solutions: Shipp showing deeper, Polster pulling into midfield from right back, and Nyarko and Accam pinching narrower to run the channels.
All of it had that experimental feeling of a preseason game, though - could this work? How about this? Oooh, here's a lovely idea. IT IS THE 24th GAME OF THE SEASON. This is shameful.
None of which is to say the Fire didn't have chances - good lord, look at the highlights. As always, the Men in Red create more chances, get more looks on goal, and emerge with less. Welcome to Fire fandom, little folks. Get used to that feeling in the middle of your chest.