We join the action, now, near the end. The crowd outside the bedroom door has quieted its murmuring to the barest whisper; the attendants to the Patient stand in pained postures around a bedside adorned with black runners, black garland. Dark, dark time, passing so languidly, daring us to hate it, daring us to wish it to move on. We do not wish it ... we do not wish it ... we not wish it ... we do wish it ... we do wish it not ... when will this night end?
It will not, until it will. For today, the Patient, the 2015 Chicago Fire, remain, astonishingly robust yet at death's door. The Men in Red fell ill (yet again, they will say, and sadly they will speak it true) after a robust 30 minutes in visitation to the Red Bulls of Harrison, N.J. In the end, the Fire's clever and effective talk over apertif only cast in embarrassing contrast their mumbling, incoherent rants during dinner and dessert. By the time their car pulled up, Chicago had abandoned all pretense of social intercourse, huddled beneath a trenchcoat found discarded in a side room, muttering threats at imagined enemies and repeating shopworn excuses.
3-2 Red Bulls, whose lone recent social black mark - undone in Chicago! Really? And with how they've fallen ... - should now arguably be erased. Not only did the Jersey collective rally from a two-goal deficit, but in so doing they took firm control of MLS' Eastern Conference.
|1||New York Red Bulls||45||26||1.73||13||7||6||46||30||16||25||15||21||1|
|3||Columbus Crew SC||41||28||1.46||11||9||8||45||47||-2||32||9||13||-11|
|4||New England Revolution||40||27||1.48||11||9||7||38||36||2||24||15||14||-13|
|8||Orlando City SC||29||28||1.04||7||13||8||33||50||-17||18||2||15||-19|
|9||New York City FC||28||27||1.04||7||13||7||38||46||-8||26||0||12||-8|
When they write the obituary for the Patient - and somewhere, some clever lady is writing it even now - they will point, rightly, to its defense. (Well, its defense, and the technical staff that built that defense, and the executive staff that built the structure within which that staff worked, and the owner ... blame will be plentiful. It will bubble forth from the ground around Toyota Park, seeping into the water and evaporating into the air.)
Tonight, Chicago swooned after less than half an hour. The Men in Red simply couldn't hold Red Bulls at bay when the game was there to be won, surrendering a 2-goal lead before halftime and clinging on gamely with all to play for after the break. At 0-2 to the Fire, a bit of quick thinking by Sacha Kljestan allowed him to poke a hasty through-ball to Bradley Wright-Phillips, and the defending MLS Golden Boot winner slotted home his 14th goal of the season with a toe-poke, with the never-before center back tandem of Jeff Larentowicz and Ty Harden caught too wide to trouble BWP's central run.
The tying goal, too, found the Fire flaunting their inexperience together. Two players - Harden and Jamaican centerback Daneil Cyrus - were given their first starts, with Cyrus starting at right back, a fairly unfamiliar position. The defense's lack of cohesion was exposed in the 38th minute, when Red Bulls wing forward Mike Grella presented an imponderable marking problem by leaving his left-sided post and rambling across the penalty area to the right-side near post, where he took a pass unmarked (predictably, having presented such an impossible quandry), danced a bit, and lashed home the equalizer.
The Fire built a lead with an effervescent, intelligent opening half hour. Using the hosts' aggressive positioning against them, they continually were able to isolate blazers Kennedy Igboananike and (especially) David Accam against New York's very high defensive line. Both goals came from those kind of isolations - Igbo drawing a questionable penalty against Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle, and Accam blowing past and then posterizing a good portion of the defense. But it wasn't just the lightning attacks that worked for Chicago; in the opening stanzas, the midfield duo of Matt Polster and Mikey Stephens did yeoman's work to allow la Maquina Roja to keep the ball despite a nominal disadvantage in midfield.
That was the 26th minute of the game. By the 28th, a fainting spell was again upon the defense, and the Fire took to the chaise to read a nice book. 10 minutes after that, they sipped some water and spoke a few quiet words of encouragement - chin up, Smithers, you know this will end well - and then slipped into a quiet doze from which they never awoke. Even the shrieks from Jersey's delirious fans celebrating Kljestan's winning penalty kick* didn't disturb the Men in Red's deepening slumber, as their attacks became still less committed, their clearances still more despairing by the moment.
The loss is Chicago's 474th consecutive on the road**, and leaves them with a 0.08x10^-8 percent** chance of social acceptance by the better types of oligarchic soccer organizations. The Fire (7-15-6) return to the City of Big Shoulders for their next gathering, which will feature the Orlando clan led by genial fundamentalist Ricky Kaká. Both gatherings find their standing under duress. No outcome should surprise; it's almost as likely that none will matter.
*Shamefully earned, but winners write whatever it is they're writing there in Harrison.
**All statistics made up on the spot for no reason in particular.