I’ve almost forgotten watching good soccer in the Windy City was like. For months (years?) the Chicago Fire have been a poor team that (outside of 2015) does just enough to try and convince you they’re just a few plays or players from turning things around. Even when they have played well, it seems they’re always one bad deflection or mental lapse away from an inevitable collapse back to mediocrity. Saturday night’s 3-0 victory against Philadelphia Union felt a bit like a karmic release, as the Fire not only looked to be the superior team for most of the match against a quality playoff team in Philly, but for the first time in recent memory, the bounces seemed to go the Fire’s way.
And don’t look now, but the team is just six points out from the final playoff spot (with a game in hand). The realistic chance for Chicago to leapfrog DC, Orlando and New England remains low, but it’s nice to have even a glimmer of optimism as the calendar turns to fall.
Toyota Park lived up to its newfound reputation as a fortress, as the Fire are now unbeaten there in their past twelve matches across all competitions.
After 20 or so minutes, the first real lucky bounce came as a result of the new-fangled offensive prowess that had the Union back line (missing impressive rookie Josh Yaro due to the recent passing of his mother) scrambling to cover in front of goalkeeper John McCarthy, who was starting his first MLS game of the season. Matt Polster pushed forward and tried to slot a pass through the box to Michael De Leeuw, whose tenacity makes him a frontrunner for Man of the Match honors. The pass forced Philly’s defender Roland Alberg to attempt a sliding clearance, which then deflected off his leg and past McCarthy for an own goal to put the Fire up 1-0.
The rest of the half saw Philly do its best to equalize the score, but Sean Johnson continued his torrid run, recording five saves en route to another clean sheet. His 31st minute finger-tip save on high shot from Chris Pontius was classic Johnson, and helped keep the Fire up as they went half.
The second half saw Philly keep pushing for the draw, but Johnson’s save on Tranquillo Barnetta in the 54th minute marked the turning point as the Fire seemingly took back control of the match. After repeated efforts to push the match into a place that would give fans a sigh a relief, it finally came off another fortunate bounce that typically goes against the Fire. Perhaps the change was caused because the play in the 71st minute involved two players who haven’t been here long enough to collect the taint of the Fire’s futility. As the Fire went on the counter, Razvan Cocis’ through ball found the feet of Luis Solignac as he ran into the box, forcing McCarthy to come off his line to make an impressive save on Solignac’s one-timer. But McCarthy could only deflect the shot, and the ball proceeded to land right in front of a streaking De Leeuw, who headed the ball into the net to give the team a comfortable 2-0 lead.
The Fire would put an exclamation point on the win in the 90th minute when Arturo Alvarez, who had numerous dangerous chances throughout the game, did his best David Accam impression charging at, then using a nifty step-over move, to trip up Philly’s Ken Tribbett before slotting a calm low shot inside the far post for the statement goal.
Even if the Union were not at full strength, the win helped wash the unpleasant taste of the Fire’s 6-2 loss against DC United last weekend; and the team will have another full week of rest before it hosts another tough home test against Toronto FC.