Montreal Impact 3 (Piatti 6, 38; Mancuso 36 pk)
Chicago Fire 0
There is a tendency - especially pronounced among supporters of teams whose outcomes have taken a sudden turn for the worse - to gesture vaguely towards the concept of balance. We weren’t bad, you see - we were simply due for some ill tidings, like a football club is a small pasture in a larger ecosystem, sure to see its share of both rain and sun.
That idea is horseshit. What’s more, it’s reductive, sparing terrible football teams derision at the price of devaluing winners, undermining each in turn. But damn, if it isn’t a tempting approach after a night like tonight, a night when the Chicago Fire were frankly torn asunder by a revitalized Montreal Impact side - to treat this 3-0 midweek humiliation as some kind of balancing of the karmic scales: DATELINE MONTREAL -- A half-season’s fortune is spinning widdershins for the Chicago Fire, who’ve staggered since Midsummer …
All of that, besides being horseshit, would also be reductive. Because that 18-pass beauty against Orlando really did happen. Winning all through May and June really did happen. It wasn’t just luck. And tonight’s truly awful first half -- that really did happen, too. And outside of the first goal, it didn’t have much of anything to do with luck.
The first goal was fairy-kissed, though. Chicago started the game with a shuffled backline, as injuries to both starting fullbacks had split up the rock-solid centerback pairing of Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof, with Kappelhof sliding out to right back. Then, in the fourth minute, Meira pulled up lame and signalled for a sub, thrusting new signing Christian Dean in the center of defense alongside teammates he’d met less than two weeks ago.
Newer fans of the Fire will have to forgive their elders the mordant laughter they doubtless shared about what happened next - the ball bounding immediately toward the barely-warm Dean, Ignacio Piatti winning the race to the ball, his immaculate touch setting up the early chip he used to beat an onrushing Matt Lampson. It’s the sixth minute, and everyone’s already got the grim, confused determination of a guy who realizes he didn’t study nearly enough for this test.
The rest of the half was a blur of fumbling mediocrity from the Fire, with the Impact comfortably defending against a halting, static attack plagued by simple passing errors. The hosts then broke at pace, usually running onto incisive through balls from Swiss midfielder Blerin Dzemaili. At no point did the Men in Red appear the bettter team.
The goals came, seemingly inevitably. The second goal came for Matteo Mancuso from the penalty spot, as he converted the kick he’d earned by drawing a foul in the box on Lampson. Lampson had earlier stoned the Italian in a 1-on-1, but from the spot Mancuso sent him the wrong way and tucked the ball in easily to double the lead in the 36th.
The third came just two minutes later, before the smoke from the celebration had cleared the air. It was a familiar pattern - Dzemaili to a teammate, running wild toward our goal - but with a really special ending. Piatti took the ball in his favored left channel, Fire defender Jonathan Campbell giving a step and a half but otherwise very alert to the danger, giving ground smoothly while doubtless feeling a bit like some small thing under the shadow of a hawk. Piatti didn’t really even try a move, just wiggled a bit to unbalance Campbell and, perfectly in stride, crushed a low, bending skidder that curved around Lampson and into the back corner -- from 25 yards. As Frank Klopas would say, “Sometimes it’s that the other guy’s good.”