There are so many universes just out of reach - places where subtle changes make a difference, where the convergence of skill and fate is not such a rare treat. Where pleasant things happen, sometimes multiply. Where the Fire aren't the black-garbed ship of the cursed, riding out the rough-justice stewardship of a free-rider vulture-capitalist concern.
Frank Yallop promised us more frequent updates from the happier of the nearby shoals of reality, and has largely failed to deliver. But all question about his sincerity should be put to rest by this vigorous Chicago display, as the supine Men in Red stood up and derailed the New York Red Bull Supporters' Shield Express with a 3-2 win. If for only a night, Yallop's ideas for this team were on display, and worked.
The game was a gappy, wobbling midweek treat. Neither team was at its best, but the Fire were a lot closer than the high-flying visitors. From the first minute, the Men in Red showed they were prepared for New York's deep pressure, playing simple short-short-long sequences that sought to free up the African blurrers running about up top: old hand Patrick Nyarko and new boys David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike were all quick and aggressive on the break from the opening whistle.
In or out of possession, the rest of the Chicago side played a cautious, defensive game of positioning, one marked by a huge amount of fluidity. Suddenly the defensive midfielders playing central defense, right back, center midfield made sense, a team of interchangeable parts able to move and flex at the speed of thought. Everyone is everyone else's ‘midfield partner.' All hands on deck in the engine room. The Fire's second layer of cover denied Red Bull outlet passes, covering lanes and marking up in transition.
In frustration, New York tried scooping long passes for Bradley Wright-Phillips to run down; one of those resulted in a corner in the 10th minute. As the cross came in, Jeff Larentowicz' two-armed hug on Matt Maizga became a one-armed hug became a one-armed-flail became a Stage 5 Clinger. Penalty Kick, and a little talk about codependency - you don't need him, Jeff!
Oh, here we are, in this universe after all - the Fire have controlled proceedings, and trail (Satja Kljestan, killing puppies in his mind), 0-1.
But that other one is so so tantalizingly near. By halftime, we'd gotten several sustained minutes from NearbyUniverse.Fire+awesome:
- Matt Polster, nominally a right back, jumped forward to break up a predictable square pass in central midfield in the 22nd minute. He touches forward to Gilberto, who was checking back but immediately reverses to thread a lovely through-ball onto Igboananike's right foot. His touch past Miazga is perfect, and his finish keeps it simple to tie the game at 1.
- Polster's midfield partner, Razvan Cocis - no, wait, never mind - combines with Gilberto (that guy again) down the left flank; Gilberto whistles a cross into the area that Michael Stephens (Polster's midfield partner!), in a moment of inspiration, chests forward toward Nyarko. Nyarko rolls it onto his left foot and puts it in the corner, and the Fire lead, 2-1.
- Stephens (Cocis' midfield partner) combined with late substitute (and midfield partner) Harry Shipp on a little shuffle-shuffle-tap bamboozlement of New York's tiring pressure in the 73rd minute, giving Stephens enough time to loop an accurate pass into the left channel for Accam to run onto. The Ghanaian found Igboananike flashing goalward on an angle, and picked out a simple cross which Igboananike finished with aplomb for the win.
Somewhere in there, Red Bull got a goal when they did some ‘olly-olly-oxen-free' bullshit on a corner, which allowed Klestjan (killing puppies! in his mind! I'm telling you!) to waltz into the penalty area and zip a ‘deflect-me-in' cross off the foot of Ronald Zubar.
The win finds the Fire ... still bottom of the league (7-13-5), but three points better off. All that's needed now is their first four road wins of the season. In a row.