During tonight’s pre-game show, Dan Kelly and Frank Klopas sat at their mobile news desk outside Toyota Park. Two unidentified Fire fans stood right behind them. Both were wearing red home shirts and scarves, one donned an oversized red Stetson hat. When you do this kind of outdoor sports programming, fans will inevitably crowd around to gawk and mug for the cameras. It’s a feature, not a bug.
What was striking was, one, the fact that it was just these two guys rather than an actual crowd, and two, the fact that they weren’t waving or flailing for the folks at home. They met the gaze of the television audience with dead-eyed stares. The kind you’d expect to find in survivors of the bombing of Dresden. These were looks of frustration, of malaise, of latent trauma. There was no joy. There was no mischief. There wasn’t even a cry for help. The damage was done, and those watching at home would have to bear witness. At the end of things, the most any of us can do is bear witness.
And so it was that, on a chilly Thursday night in front of a sparse crowd, the Fire continued their lumbering shuffle to the end of the season with a languid and occasionally febrile 2-2 draw. In brighter times, a late-season clash at home against That Yellow F*cking Team would’ve packed the stands and had Section 8 in full voice, even if it was a midweek game. As it is, there were empty seats, awkward stretches of silence, and an interminable longing for all this to be over with already.
The Fire didn’t take long to make a mess. In the 13th minute, having pissed away an opportunity to capitalize on a defensive error, a second try ended with the Fire giving the ball away and the Crew launching into a counterattack. Chicago defenders ran into each other as they realized Adam Jahn was taking the ball on the right and were largely powerless to stop him. Sean Johnson gave Jahn’s shot a lift but did not alter its trajectory, and the visitors were up 1-0 after a practically trademark bed-shitting from their hosts.
This is almost if not equal to September White Sox levels of not caring #cf97— Hot Time In Old Town (@HotTimeOldTown) October 14, 2016
This was largely the story of the first half— cheap giveaways in the center of the park, poor communication in the back, occasional chances to score squandered by hesitation or bad choices. That the Fire went into the tunnel at halftime only down a goal was down to Columbus’ own fecklessness and apathy than anything else.
#CrewSC is lucky the Fire can't hit the broad side of a freshly Valspar painted barn.— Setting the Table (@settingthetable) October 14, 2016
Chicago saw a brief glimmer of hope early in the second half, but, as if to hammer the point on how inept this side has been for most of the season, Columbus had to do the work for us. Capitalizing on another defensive mistake, the Fire moved quickly to set up a shot. Michael Parkhurst stuck out a boot to clear it away from David Arshakyan, but inadvertently chipped it over Steve Clark and put it in the back of the net.
Maybe it was the faint psychological boost. Maybe Columbus were rattled. Maybe the Gods themselves intervened to give us one nice thing this season. Whatever it was, the Fire took the lead less than five minutes later when Michael de Leeuw finished off a low cross from Arturo Álvarez from close range. All of a sudden it seemed as if the Natural Order Of Things was restored as the Fire were beating Columbus at home.
It didn’t last. A cross passed over two Fire defenders and fell at Jahn’s feet. He took his time, turned on his heel, and crushed his shot past SJ from 15 yards. 2-2, 80th minute.
The remaining 10 or so minutes weren’t exactly spirited, but they were frantic after a fashion. Columbus had a chance to re-take the lead in the 88th minute. Răzvan Cociș could’ve done the same a minute later but poor footwork got the better of him. Soon after that he came back and hit a shot just wide of the post in stoppage time.
Arturo Alvarez just got shaded to one side like a basketball player who can’t dribble with his right… and it worked. #cf97— Danny Santaromita (@TheDanSanto) October 14, 2016
And with seconds left, the Fire had a tremendous opportunity to counterattack with the goal wide open— Clark had come up for a corner— but the pass to kick it off hit Arshakyan in the back.
The whistle blew at 2-2. The game, this rivalry, this season petered out with no one getting what they needed.
If the Fire can take anything positive away from this game, it’s that Columbus were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with the result. And that’s pretty much the best the Fire— and us, the fans— can hope for at this point. Fleeting moments of schadenfreude and a quick end.
There are two games left. The nights are getting longer and colder. We’re heading into winter with another barren harvest. The ennui is so thick in the air you could almost drink it.
A concealed horror behind the phrase “Fire Til I Die” is that death can take many forms.