It's been like this all season long,hasn't it?You just don't know which team is going to show up on gameday. All season long there has been too much inconsistent play to consider this Fire team a true contender. After beating the league's hottest team at the time, FC Dallas, at the beginning of the month, the Fire quickly crashed back down to earth with two losses and a tie after that: Losses to a struggling Portland team and fellow bottom-dwellers Colorado, a tie to fellow Eastern Conference strugglers Philly. To go with all of that, a loss in the Open Cup semis to Philly sandwiched in between made it worse. Then came Wednesday night versus the Red Bulls.
The game started out how all games this season seem to - bad defending leads to a PK called against Jeff Larentowicz. The subsequent penal was buried by Sacha Kljestan for the early 1-0 lead in the 10th minute. Then something happened - it's like the good started coming out of the Fire. Possession, chances and even shots started coming in waves for the Men in Red. Suddenly the score was tied as the newest member of the Fire, Gilberto, found an on rushing Kennedy Igboananike with a thru ball and bam, 1-1 score in the 22nd. More attack and more chances and bam, 2-1 score in the 41st as a Gilberto cross found Mikey Stephens who chested to Patrick Nyarko for the cool finish past Luis Robles. It would stay that way at halftime.
Then the ugly came out again, what we have seen all season long. The Fire let the Red Bulls control the game at the start of the 2nd half and it led to a Ronald Zubar goal off of a trick corner kick. Should the goal have counted? By the rule book, no - but the ref and linesman let it stand as Sacha Kljestan waltzed into the box as the Fire were still setting up for the corner. His low cross found Zubar for the second Red Bulls goal of the night.
That had to be it right? That had to be the point where the Fire let the ugly reign. But no! The good came back, and the Fire took control again and started to attack at will. Eventually the relentless pressure on Robles' goal led to brace for Igboananike at the 73rd minute mark. Harry Shipp just moments after coming on found Stephens on the outside who deftly chipped the ball up field to David Accam, who took the lone defender his way to leave KI wide open with just Robles to beat; he did to make it 3-2. New York tried to get the equalizer but the Fire looked good to finish the match off and not let the ugly part of their game come back late Wednesday night.
Man of the match
One player that played like a beast on Wednesday deserves it this week, Michael Stephens. He hustled, he assisted, and he did the dirty work that will get you the admiration of supporters. His passes were crisp, positioning was spot on, and his takeaways left the Red Bull offense puzzled. It makes you wonder what a Shipp-Stephens-Polster midfield would be like if Yallop didn't have to play them out of position.
And now for the rest of the season
With the game versus the Red Bulls in the rear view mirror, the Fire have to look ahead if the very faint heartbeat of the playoffs is going to strengthen.
Let's take a look at the schedule. The Fire have nine games remaining, with six of those nine on the road.
First up, the Fire end August by traveling to the deep south to take on Orlando tomorrow, the first of three straight away matches. That's followed a week later with a trip to Montreal, and again six days after that by a trip to New Jersey to face these same Red Bulls. So that's three road games over 20 days; call that the first leg of the final stretch. The Men in Red have not won a road game this year in MLS play, and they'll need to win at least one and probably two of those matches to stay in the playoff hunt.
Chicago next return home on September 19 to take on Orlando in the first of three games in 7 days - call that the second leg of the stretch run. Wednesday of that week they head back to Montreal, followed by a road match in Toronto three days later.
Finally, it's back to Chicago for a home date versus New England, followed by an away game versus DC after an international break, and then to close the season, another home game versus the Red Bulls. So you got that? That's three home games and six road games to close the season, all versus Eastern Conference opponents. So that's a possible 27 points left on the table for the Men in Red. Out of those 27 points, how many will they actually get?
If they play like they did on Wednesday, all 27 isn't impossible - but in reality, I can only see them getting maybe 10 points out of the 27. The Fire have been too inconsistent all season long, and through 11 away contests they have yet to win on the road. Winning at home is big for any team, but what you get on the road makes the season - and the Fire have yet to do anything substantial on the road. The fact of the matter is, good teams find ways to win on the road, and the Fire haven't done that. This fact is going to keep them from reaching their lofty goal of just making the playoffs.
But first is tomorrow's trip to Orlando City. OCSC is only two points ahead of the Fire in the standings, and they have the league's worst defense (46 goals allowed so far). Can the Fire capitalize and try, yet again, to build off of the positive result Wednesday or will the road woes continue and decimate the playoff chances for Yallop and company?