I saw it somewhere in the postgame Twitter scrum, when the #cf97 hashtag became a flash mob of barely-restrained bitterness and regret: It’s still early. Chalk it up to a learning experience.
Yeah, man. Lighten up, damn! It’s a road loss. A single road loss! We’re the Chicago motherf--king Fire, assholes; we lose road games six and eight at a time without raising an eyebrow. And yes, this group seemed different, confident and clever and experienced; and yes, this makes the fact that they shit the bed in the grand, familiar style this evening in Toronto even harder to shake - but it’s one game. The seventh game of 34. It’s a single, early, road game.
So, let’s take a moment and unwind here. Our weekend’s done, while the rest of MLS has yet to take the stage. Toronto FC 3, Chicago Fire 1, your opening act for April 21-23, full to bursting with learning, learning, learning. So many teachable moments!
- Let’s start with Sebastian Giovinco, shall we? Let’s just stipulate that we learned that - no matter how weirdly out of sync he may have seemed to this point in the season - giving Giovinco repeated chances to run at one’s backline with the ball at his feet is roughly akin to holding firecrackers in one’s lips for lighting. And the Fire did just that, letting the tiny Italian wizard get good and warm by repeatedly turning the ball over in their right-center channel. Oft-maligned right back Michael Harrington will have done little to slow his ongoing online crucifixion with a first half filled with baffling passing gaffes. Gio twisted the knife by feinting Harrington almost to his knees to make room to roll home the opening goal in the 28th minute.
Gio also displayed the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all selflessness for which he’s long been noted, angrily arrowing for the locker room upon being substituted with a hat trick (in his mind, surely) looming. It’s hard to argue with a guy who’s currently wearing the spines of the opposing defense as battle-dress, though, and Giovinco surely was. Whatever malaise had troubled him is no more, courtesy of the right side of the Fire defense.
- We learned that Bastian Schweinsteiger hadn’t really heard about MLS refs until tonight - but boy, did Silviu Petrescu open his eyes! What a fun, wholesome learning experience it is to learn that the rules can be applied (or not) entirely arbitrarily throughout a sporting contest, eh, Basti? A handball in the area means, apparently, a free kick just outside the area. Existing in a bit of space that Giovinco fancies: That is a foul, Johan Kappelhof! Get with the program. These two decisions turned a 2-1 nail-biter (from a less-wobbly universe next door) into this shaded vale’s 3-0 TFC lead.
The wry amusement obvious on the other players’ faces at Schweinsteiger’s increasingly incredulous complaints will be familiar to anyone whose workplace features arbitrary punishment and reward - check out this new guy; he’ll learn. As of five minutes after the final whistle, though, this lesson was still wending its way toward completion.
- We learned that Arturo Alvarez is the kind of pro who gets seven minutes and one look, and lays the ball in there on the money. Alvarez’s give-and-go with David Accam provided a consolation goal that really played the part. We also learned that Accam can finish like a forward when he gets service like a forward - both good things to know.
- We learned that Luis Solignac’s workrate from last weekend wasn’t a fluke. We learned that Niko can finish with his stomach, even if he’s probably offside. We learned Michael de Leeuw will keep working even when it’s not. We learned that even Dax has bad days passing the ball. We learned Juninho is an egoless monk. We learned Joao Meira just might have another kick-your-teammate-in-the-face moment in him. We learned that Basti is a great player who is also not fast. Some of these are not great to know, but knowing is better than not.
- We learned that team confidence can be so terribly fragile, and unpredictably so; it’s untrustworthy, like lake ice on a warm spring day. Just below the ice lurks water the temperature of failure, of loneliness, of despair. It’s so cold down there.
Please, no. Please, please? No? We’ve been down there so long.
Today, we went down there again. Today, for the first time in the Second Year of N-Rod, First of His Name, the ice broke. Today, we tumbled back down, down into that midnight-inky ice bath. The final score was charitable. The Fire were bested at every level - technical, physical, emotional, mental.
The Men in Red (3-2-2) continue this murderer’s row of a road trip next Saturday, when they play the Red Bulls in New Jersey.