The remarkable thing about Sunday's 2-0 Chicago Fire win over FC Dallas - one of several remarkable things, really - was how calmly it came to be. The Texans entered the match on a five-game winning streak; they'd collected 16 points in MLS in July, while the Fire had 19 all season. The combination of Fabian Castillo buzzing off the left wing and Mauro Diaz floating and creating in the middle had churned the waters of Lake Hype into a choppy froth.
The Fire would have none of it in their best defensive performance of the season, calmly keeping their shape and forcing Dallas to settle for half-chances and rare glimpses of goal. Of particular note was the work of rookie Matt Polster - restored to his natural position deep in midfield - who simply erased Diaz from the run of play for long stretches.
Of course, it's a bit easier to play solid defense when one already has the lead, and - four minutes in - the Men in Red had that, too. David Accam's speed is easier to talk about than to truly anticipate, apparently; most opponents take a few minutes to realize "Oh, he's already getting there." So it was with Dallas' Matt Hedges, who thought he'd simply clown Accam with a touch as they fought for a long ball, only to see the Ghanaian trickster glide in, poke the ball past him, and finish back-post past a despairing Dan Kennedy for a very early lead.
After that, the game settled into a clear pattern. Chicago were content to stay compact, work the ball from the back and try to execute three-pass breakouts to their very quick forwards; Dallas seemed frustrated and a bit clumsy in possession, unable to find chances in transition, constantly hounded away from danger areas by Polster, Razvan Cocis and Jeff Larentowicz. Dallas cranked 13 shots at the Fire defense, but only three forced saves from Sean Johnson while four were blocked by the many bodies the Fire kept in front of goal.
Even when substitute Matt Watson earned a straight red card in the 79th - for going straight through Rolando Escobar in midfield - the Fire kept their shape. Dallas' increasing frustration led them to a bit of recklessness, which was punished in the 85th when Kellyn Acosta fouled Kennedy Igboananike just inside the penalty area. Shaun Maloney cooly finished the resulting penalty to signal the end of the game as a sporting contest and its beginning as a joyful parade. There were fireworks. Accam may still be circling the Toyota Park pitch, saluting Fire fandom.
In the preview, I asked for the Chicago Fire to declare themselves. If this was that declaration: Bravo.
There's still 13 games to play in MLS, and two in the US Open Cup. Silverware? Postseason? It's all within reach.