Pressure often does one of two things to people. It breaks them or motivates them.
Whether it is an emergency room surgeon responding to life threatening conditions or a golfer needing to sink a 15-foot putt to win a major tournament, it is the ability to remain consistent in unexpected situations that leads to success.
But pressure can also build slowly and not just unexpectedly. A CEO of a company may not feel immediate pressure after one or even two bad quarters, but if that number gets up to four or five, the pressure will be at boiling point.
The Chicago Fire experienced both kinds of pressure Friday, but unlike many times last year, did not break under the weight of it all.
Going into the game, Chicago already had external pressures. The club was on a 25-game winless road streak, an 0-3-0 start like in 2015 lingered as a possibility that could extinguish the positive vibes of the preseason and the defense needed redemption.
The winless road streak continued and the defense was not always sharp, but it turned out to be an important and telling result for the team because of the unexpected pressure they faced. Falling to 10 men with 60-plus minutes left in the contest, the Fire remain poised and collected, holding on to a 1-1 draw that gave them their first point of the season.
Friday's game was the kind of contest where last year's team would have defended well in stretches only to completely fall apart with 20 to 15 minutes left. Even at full strength last year, the Fire had three own-goals in three MLS games against Orlando City, including one that was a late winner for the Lions.
It is virtually inevitable that every team will play shorthanded at some point. Some squads crumble, others can persevere. For the Fire to get the experience of playing a man down this early and pass the test, especially on the road, is a promising sign.
Players should be feeling confident heading into Saturday's match at home against Columbus. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson was the hero in the second half, redeeming himself after a shaky debut, and David Accam now has two goals in two games.
Coming off a game that looked a little too much like 2015 at times, it was nice to see a new side to the Fire.
Player rankings will count down from XI to I with XI being the best. Subs often will not make the list, unless they are super duper awesome, in which case they might.
XI: David Accam - You could count on one hand the number of players in MLS who could have done what Accam did to score the Fire's lone goal in the 14th minute. Accam's speed is irreplaceable and no matter how defenses prepare for him, they cannot stop his speed. While the goal was sensational, Accam was a menace all game, including a great run through four Orlando players to the opposing box. He also had a header off the post in the 25th minute on a nice cross from Michael Harrington
X: Matt Lampson - That is how you follow-up an underwhelming debut. Lampson's confidence was clearly not shaken as he made a handful of diving saves, including one in the 78th minute where the touch of his finger was just enough to push Cyle Larin's shot off the post. He didn't make any bad turnovers and was alert off his line. Lampson's claim to the spot is getting much, much tighter. His run of saves from the 75th minute to 80th minute was spectacular.
IX: John Goossens - Looked good in his first game back with the team and first official MLS match. While Goossens would probably like to play further up the field, he proved he could be responsible as a deep lying midfielder, consistently getting on to the ball and turning it back up field. Though a bit lucky, it was his bombing pass that Accam got to for the Fire's goal. An overall good showing.
VIII: Johan Kappelhof - We all knew the Dutch defender had potential and Friday was his finest performance yet for the Men in Red. Kappelhof started as a centerback but looked even better when he moved to right back after Michael Harrington's red card. At right back, Kappelhof got involved in the attack, made overlapping runs and nearly created a second goal for the Fire when he one-touched Goossen's lovely chip into the box right to Igboananike in the six-yard box. He also showed up defensively, making a key clearance in the 47th minute before Larin could get his foot to the ball.
VII: Kennedy Igboananike - That missed opportunity in the six-yard box setup by Goossens and Kappelhof was painful. It was fairly well defended, but Igboananike was SO CLOSE to getting a touch on it. Despite the missed chance, Igboananike once again kept the defense honest with his speed and got involved in the attack. He is still looking like he will have more consistent performances this season.
VI: Matt Polster - A better game than Sunday, but couldn't get into the attack as much as he likely would have enjoyed and had to play it a bit safe after taking a yellow in the 28th minute. But his physical play generally gets to opponents and it did Friday as he drew a yellow on Cristian Higuita in the second half. The center of the defense is still giving up too much space and Polster did get turned a bit on an Adrian Winter attempt in the 55th that required another strong save from Lampson.
V: Brandon Vincent - Also a better game than Sunday, but still relatively quiet. Vincent has not been as involved as the right backs have and it will take time for him to find his role. Defensively he was responsible throughout. It is only a matter of time before Vincent starts to find his groove.
IV: Arturo Alvarez - It is hard to follow-up the kind of performance he had on Sunday. Comparatively speaking, he seemed a bit invisible at times. He didn't play in his natural position, sitting further back alongside Polster. He proved to be an effective central attacking midfielder, but with Goossens likely holding that role, it will be interesting to see if Alvarez moves to a wing or stays with Polster. He seems too good to come off the bench.
III: Jonathan Campbell - I wouldn't say the Larin goal was on Campbell, but he was in the frame and part of the breakdown. But the other guys get paid too and Larin made a great play. It was Kevin Molino's approach and the ease at which he got Larin the ball that was the issue. When the majority of attacks come up the center of the field, the center backs are going to take some of the brunt. Campbell is getting much more playing time than I initially thought and I think he'll also continue to be more assertive and confident in his role. He did have a chance on an Alvarez corner that went by the wayside.
II: Joao Meira - I guess I am going to just keep picking on the guy. He really has yet to standout and made another questionable challenge near the box. He received a yellow in the 70th minute for his challenge on Molino right outside the box. It set up a dangerous free kick, but nothing came of it. Hang in there, Joao. It'll get better. I hope.
I: Michael Harrington - There has been some debate about whether Harrington's challenge on Brek Shea should have been a red. There is always debate on red cards. The fact is the ref issued one, so unfortunately, Harrington is this game's dud. He had a nice, nice cross to Accam that nearly led to a goal and he has delivered good service when on the field. But he needs to be on the field.
*Shout out to Razvan Cocis for coming off the bench and immediately drawing a penalty right outside the Orlando box. Too bad Alvarez kicked it right off the wall.
What They Said
Orlando center back Seb Hines on the David Accam goal.
"His speed is just scary. I played against Theo Walcott of Arsenal when he was 17 and thought he was scary fast, but this kid is probably just as quick. It's tough to go up against that."
Hot Take: Darn right his speed is scary, Seb. Watch some video man. Thanks for comparing a Fire player to an Arsenal player though. Makes me feel good.
Orlando City coach Adrian Heath on Chicago's performance.
"But you have to give [Chicago] great credit. They were well organized, and they always had the threat of the counter-attack, which is something we spoke about beforehand."
Hot Take: Thank you for the kind words, sir. I too thought they deserved great credit. I would be much more upset with my own team after two consecutive home games where the opponent went down to 10 men and draws were all to show for it.
Coach Veljko Paunovic on the team progress.
"We are improving, we are building as a team and we are still growing. In the next game, we will be even better."
Hot Take: In Pauno I trust. The mental resolve showed by the team to hang on to a draw after going down a man is a refreshing sight. I don't think it would have happened last season.
How would you rank the players/performance? Any observations stand out to you?