COLUMBUS - Today’s MLS opener for the Chicago Fire demonstrated one of the really fantastic side-effects of extremely low expectations: Even mediocre outcomes can be encouraging!
The Men in Red overcame a torpid first half and a committed performance from the host Crew to split the points with Columbus, 1-1. David Accam’s 73rd-minute knee-buckler balanced out Ethan Finley’s header in the 17th, as Chicago avoided losing its fourth consecutive season opener.
The Fire learned late in the week that DP midfielder Juninho, a massive part of the offseason rebuild, would not be eligible due to a red card picked up in his last LigaMX match - and the Men in Red played most of the first half as if the Brazilian’s absence had them morose.
The Crew were brighter and quicker to the ball, and Chicago had little choice but absorb pressure. In the end, Columbus had to settle for only a single goal during their first-half domination, opening the door for the Fire’s roaring back into the game after the break.
Finley’s goal was the sort of momentary but widespread defensive collapse that has become a Chicago Fire trademark since 2009. Justin Meram, ambling with the ball on the Fire’s right defensive wing, had two markers in the vicinity - but neither really challenging - when he looped a cross to the penalty spot, where Finley ran onto it unimpeded to head it home.
Led by an obviously incensed Dax McCarty, Chicago put together a much more credible performance in the second half, stringing together longer passages of play and looking an increasing goal threat. Nemanja Nikolic got a few half-chances but couldn’t put one on frame, which was a bit of a surprise.
Not surprising, then, was the manner of the Fire’s salvation - Accam, as usual, doing something remarkable. Slipped forward by John Goossens - whose play in understudy of Juninho improved throughout the afternoon - the Ghanaian was one-on-one with Jonathan Mensah, a teammate of his with the Ghana national team.
Mensah played David cautiously, clearly afraid of getting burned toward the byline, his shoulders perpendicular to the goal. Accam simply kept the ball on his right foot, waiting, feinting, waiting, letting Mensah’s fear and orientation pull him further and further out of position, until David did what he always meant to do, wrapping a hooking line-drive past Zach Steffen and into the Crew net. 1-1, 73 minutes in, and that’s how the game would end.
The Fire (0-0-1) play their first home game against Real Salt Lake next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Crew (0-0-1) travel to play Houston that evening.