Is there any way that, in the place of play-by-play and color commentary over the final three games of the Chicago Fire's monumentally execrable 2015 season - continued in its course by today's 3-2 swan-dive in Toronto, naturally - we could perhaps substitute something of this nature?
Or perhaps this, looped, until every watching who has not lost their wits does so?
Rooting for the Fire has become an endurance quest, folks. It's become Cubs fandom, for the love of all that is right and holy. Early- and mid-70s Cubs fandom, to boot - a few hardcore fans and a whole lot of bemused lookie-loos, a team that reverses course more often than a tugboat. Today, even a brace from Gilberto couldn't save the Fire from falling to the homestanding Reds, 3-2. With the loss, the Men in Red are officially eliminated from playoff contention with three games remaining. The defeat is their 18th on the season, extending an ongoing record.
Brian Bliss rotated the lineup slightly from Wednesday's loss at Montreal, inserting Daneil Cyrus at centerback, Mikey Stephens in midfield and Mike Magee up top, replacing Ty Harden, Razvan Cocis and Kennedy Igboananike, respectively. The Fire new before kickoff that they had little to play for but pride, 12 points behind sixth-place Montreal.
And it all began so well - barely 30 seconds after kickoff, Matt Polster jolted into Jozy Altidore as he tried to settle a pass, knocking the ball free to Gilberto, who gave up to Stephens and bolted for the area. Stephens fed Patrick Nyarko in the right channel, who skipped into space and found Gilberto (now on the end of his run) with a sharp diagonal ball. Gilberto's finish was well-struck past Toronto keeper Chris Konopka, and the Fire had an improbable lead before the kickoff confetti was done swirling in the wind.
Thus settled, the Fire displayed some defensive organization over the next 20 minutes, keeping their lines tight and making themselves difficult to play against. Organization cannot always trump genius, however, and the Reds have a certifiable (although infuriating) genius in the person of the Atomic Ant, Italian superstar Seba Giovinco. The presumptive MLS MVP levelled the match in the 29th with an audacious bit of skill, taking a pass down on the right endline, freezing Gilberto with a feint to make certain no challenge would come, then flicking the ball - all of this right-footed, mind, wide on the flank and barely two feet from the line - with the outside of his right foot, over Jon Busch, and inside the Fire's far post. The official record will forever show the goal as Jonathon Osorio's, and Osorio did manage to place his hair in the ball's path goalward; this, perhaps, a lesson on the limitations of the official record.
Denied the comfort of the lead, the Men in Red struggled to assert themselves, but managed to keep the game level until early in the second half, when Gilberto struck again. The play again began with Nyarko on the ball, narrow on the right side; he found Magee pulling into deeper space, and his pass was one-timed by Magee to part the Toronto defense for Gilberto. The Brazilian's finish was inch-perfect, pinging off the near post and bounding in to restore the Fire's lead, 1-2, in the 53rd minute.
So here the game sits poised, 35 minutes to play, Chicago leading, and all to play for ... or is there? The simple fact is that Toronto, over the final 35 minutes, looked like the team with more on the line, looked like the team that needed the points and was just going to take 'em, goddamnit. As if to highlight the gulf in motivation, the levelling marker came on a classic "f--k this let's all rush forward" moment from Reds midfielder Michael Bradley. Bradley stepped onto a loose ball just five minutes after Gilberto's second and just dribbled forward unchallenged into the penalty area, using some complementary movement from Giovinco to give himself room to bang a deflected shot that wrong-footed Busch.
Jozy Altidore got the winner in the 78th minute, as the Fire labored to make much impression going forward. Altidore - more bull than footballer for much of the day - won a harshly contested header, but not cleanly, and the ball bounced between a thicket of players. Altidore was very much the quickest to the rebound, landing from the header and immediately lashing out to roof the half-volley: 3-2, Toronto.
And that's it for 2015. Nelson Rodriguez, you cannot get here quickly enough.
- I liked the central midfield of Polster and Stephens, but when out-numbered by players of this quality, they're not going to provide a huge number of ideas. I'm guessing the heatmap for Zone 14 shows Magee's one-time pass to Gilberto in the 57th and not much else.
- Magee still doesn't look right, and I'm starting to wonder if he'll ever look right again. Still looks stiff and slow physically, although he's mentally right there.
- Nyarko was fantastic, and seems to already have adapted his game to his lessened pace, turning inside more consistently. His ability to keep the ball in tight spaces means he can simply dribble through some situations other guys would need a 1-2 to bypass.
- Why won't any of our defenders play a freaking wall pass? One particular exchange drove me crazy: Polster, harried deep in the Fire's right side, plays back to Lovel Palmer; the defender turns and runs at Palmer, so Polster takes a couple of quick steps sideways to open a new passing angle and calls for the ball back. Instead of taking the simple solution, Palmer takes a couple of touches, comes under pressure, and bangs an aimless ball to no one which Toronto wins. WHY? It's a freaking 1-2. It's, like, the first secret move, the one they show you in the tutorial so you'll try to think of others. Why can't we keep the ball?
- Who was your MOTM for the Fire? Gilberto did play well at both ends (although he should've stepped to Giovinco!); Nyarko was very good as well.