Sporting Kansas City 3 (Sallói 23, Feilhaber 45+, Blessing 51)
Chicago Fire 2 (Besler own goal 28, Accam 78)
Ego is an important part of a soccer player’s emotional toolkit, because every part of the game is a winnowing process - can your touch handle this tempo? Your ideas? &c. Even those blessed with great athletic gifts will soon find peers who ask these questions, and eventually more than peers. Ego allows us to dream of the hero’s journey, to imagine it as our own.
Unfortunately, the behaviors that served us well in our youth can become burdens in other situations - towering self-belief can become a delusion, denying others a place in the structure: All critics are betrayers, all direction is jealousy.
What’s that have to do with the Chicago Fire’s limp 3-2 capitulation to Sporting Kansas City Saturday evening? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. After a May and June from the record books, driving all before them in their stampede to the top of the table, the Men in Red have staggered hard out of the gate for the second half of the season. Those tribulations have coincided with Velko Paunovic’s decision not to start David Accam for either game.
Accam’s absence did little to explain the generally soporific pace and approach of the Fire in this one. The hosts, their attack presumably blunted after the blockbuster trade of Dom Dwyer to Orlando, simply played their press-and-run system with an enthusiasm Chicago could not muster - the Men in Red’s formidable craft in disassembling pressing foes was nowhere to be found, in its place a muddle of off-tempo passing and finger-pointing.
An errant clearance set the stage for the opening goal, with KC’s Hungarian wing forward Daniel Sallói charging in from the left wing, buying a half-step of space off João Meira with a stepover, then finishing easily from 17 yards thanks to a slight deflection off of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s leg. But fate still kept the Fire in it, as five minutes later Sporting’s Matt Besler cleared a Matt Polster cross into Chicago’s net.
Kansas City kept at it, though, working harder than la Maquina Roja at both ends, and got their reward just on the stroke of halftime. Graham Zusi crisped up Patrick Doody to a deep golden-brown at the top of the area, using the space to arrow to the endline and fire a sharp cross that Latif Blessing redirected onto goal at the near post. Fire keeper Matt Lampson made a reflex save to keep the ball out for a moment, but Benny Feilhaber was waiting at the back post, where he (predictably) chose the flashiest way to finish a goal-line tap-in, getting on his bike to blast home from approximately 3 inches and give Sporting a lead it would never relinquish.
Shortly after halftime, Kansas City made its lead two. Slow to react to a midfield turnover, the Fire struggled to mark up as Sporting flooded the right side of their defense in a brief passing sequence. Chilean striker Diego Rubio, astonished at not being closed down only 9 yards out, flicked a simple shot toward the back post that Blessing turned into the goal: 3-1, and the Fire looked done.
That was before Accam came on, however. The cat-quick Ghanaian, brought on five minutes after the third KC goal, immediately caused problems with his pace and directness. His 12th goal of the season - third in MLS - brought the Fire back within a single goal in the 78th, with Accam’s sharp diagonal run making the most of a low, early cross from Doody.
Those sifting the ruins of this match for evidence of hopefulness may wish to focus their efforts on the 85th-minute save from Tim Melia. The Sporting keeper tipped over Nemanja Nikolic’s bullet header off a Polster cross, and the Fire seemed to deflate a bit, accepting the result.
Is this team in turmoil? Social media reported that only a few players - and initially only Accam - came over to thank the travelling support. Players that stomp off angrily after a loss could be a great sign, or a terrible one. August is suddenly interesting in all the wrong ways.
The Chicago Fire (11-5-5) host New England next Saturday evening. Kansas City (9-4-9) continue their homestand the next night when Atlanta United visits.