While the heavy presumption is that people who love sports also crave drama - the idea being that we want a season of our favorite team to be heavily-plotted, with lots of twists and turns - spare a thought for those of us for whom a game like Saturday’s is a soothing balm. The Fire smothered DC United 1-0 this evening, just sort of established a basic rhythm of dominance and rode it, unaltered, to the first road win of the season.
What it lacked in drama it more than made up for in reassurance for Fire supporters. Select and watch any 10-minute slice of this game - hell, any 5-minute slice - and one’s impression would be the same: The Chicago Fire were much the better football team in RFK Stadium this evening. United struggled to create anything offensively against the defense of the Men in Red, which has seemed revitalized by the insertion of Matt Polster at right back, while Chicago sliced through the host’s defense fairly routinely.
On a night when Golden Boot leader Nemanja Nikolic was not at his best, the Fire got the winning goal from David Accam. The Ghanaian was once again in sparkling form, buzzing about creating chances and pressing back to chip the ball free. In the 52nd, Luis Solignac received the ball in deep midfield and looped a ball perfectly into the stride of Accam’s well-timed run behind the DC defense. ‘King David’ zoomed down the left channel, using Nikolic’s run on the right as a decoy, and finished past stranded United keeper Bill Hamid for the only goal of the game.
What was striking about the descending action was that it was descending action - despite obvious fatigue on the part of most of the starters, despite a predictable late barrage of set pieces, the Fire didn’t start getting beaten to every second ball and relying on pure luck to save them, as has been their modus operandi en route to the worst road record MLS has ever seen. No, this version of la Maquina Roja played like a machine, shortening the game by keeping the ball in stretches, frustrating DC with airtight marking when pressed back.
This was a team victory, as underlined by the fact that the Fire’s most-decorated player made the team’s worst gaffe of the game, and it didn’t cost the visitors a thing. (Well, it cost Joao Meira a headache, probably.) In the 57th minute - just five minutes after the Fire had taken the lead - Bastian Schweinsteiger slid a pass across the top of the Chicago area to Brandon Vincent, who was curling wide to spread the field. Problematically, Basti had failed to notice DC winger Lloyd Sam loitering just there. Sam hesitated to get his feet right, then blasted a shot that looked to be on goal, only to be blocked by Meia flinging himself at it.
Schweinsteiger made up for the screw-up with an absolutely brilliant bit of dribbling along the endline in stoppage time. The German had already wasted a good minute in combination with Vincent in that corner when he beat a double-team toward goal, then beat them back toward the flag, then beat them back toward goal a second time, finally bursting into the area and putting Nikolic’s 11th goal on a platter. Unfortunately, the Serbo-Hungarian skied the finish; he was having that kind of night.
There’s so many bad streaks broken by tonight’s result that it’s difficult to list them all. The end to the road winless streak. The end to DC’s complete domination of the Fire in RFK. But perhaps the most important one is this: It’s starting to feel safe to believe again. After years of drama, a little mundanity can sound downright appealing.
Chicago (6-3-3) hosts FC Dallas - surely MLS’ best - in the Brimstone Cup battle on Thursday night. DC United (3-6-2) travel to Vancouver on Saturday.