Chicago Fire 1 (Schweinsteiger 59)
There’s a scene in HBO’s Deadwood that explains tonight’s 0-1 Chicago Fire victory in Montreal so much more succinctly than I possibly can … and because we live in an age of miracle and wonder, you can watch it quickly here before we begin:
The guy who wins that fight, Dan Dority, earlier delivers a summary of the street-fighter’s creed to a friend who offers to jump in ‘if it starts to go wrong’:
“You do and it’ll be the last goddamned thing you do on this fucking earth. Going wrong is not the end of fuckin’ things, Johnny - fuck no! I have come back from plenty of shit that looked like it was going wrong.”
After a swaggering and delirious first half of the season that took them to the top of the MLS table, the Fire have found the league more of a street-fight since the Gold Cup break. As the Men in Red entered tonight’s contest, they had lost six of their previous seven, and found their numbers thinned, with at least four starters unavailable due to injury or international absence.
Montreal was similarly hamstrung, missing influential midfielder Blerim Dzemaili and defensive bedrock Laurent Ciman. Thus shorn of some not-insignificant portion of their cleverness, the two teams decided to settle things by beating the fuck out of each other in the middle of the street.
The first half was chippy and unsettled, but the real drama waited until after the halftime break. A series of increasingly edgy challenges had middle offical Baldolero Toledo stopping play frequently, but the stoppages in play did little to quell the growing sense of outrage from the players, who remonstrated with each other ceaselessly, carrying on arguments that spanned multiple fouls and halts in play.
The crescendo of aggression ended with Impact center back Deian Boldar taking a late swipe at Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Romanian defender arriving a full step late and delivering a glancing blow to the German’s shin. Toledo immediately issued a yellow card to Boldar, then bumped the infraction to straight red after consultation with the video assistant ref. Montreal would complain vociferously - and continue to tackle with reckless abandon - as the game/fight churned on.
Incensed by the call, the Montreal crowd turned on Schweinsteiger, echoing down boos whenever the Die Mannschaft legend touched the ball. All of which made the denouement more delicious - just at the hour mark, homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihalovic sprayed a lovely ball to the right wing for Matt Polster, who shrugged off Impact left back Daniel Lovitz and sprinted into the penalty area unmarked. Schweinsteiger’s late run to the penalty spot was similarly unchecked, making the matter of finishing Polster’s sizzling ground-cross trivial for Basti.
Having earned the lead and a man advantage, the Fire settled into the grim task of seeing the game out with real gusto, spoiling and clearing and keeping the shape. Montreal’s only real glimmers of hope came whenever the ball fell to the feet of the sublime Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine wonder made something of very little twice in the last half-hour, pinging a shot off Matt Lampson’s back post after mesmerizing three defenders on the dribble with 15 minutes left, and snatching at a half-chance on the very final kick of the game.
Fortunately for the Fire, Piatti’s magic act couldn’t put aside with the muddy street-beating the Fire had previously survived, and Chicago’s losing streak was a thing of the past. The Fire (13-9-5) are now 8 points above the playoff red-line, and will host New York Red Bulls in another crucial Eastern Conference match next Saturday. Montreal (10-10-6) will be increasingly desperate as they travel to New England the same evening.
- No single factor contributed more to the Fire breaking this streak than the return of Matt Polster. The kid has grown and grown in this position, to the point that now he really is an elite MLS right back. It was no surprise that the Fire’s best chances of the evening, including the goal, came through Polster on the right.
- I’d like everyone who’s been screaming about Mihalovic’s hugely increased role the last 10 games to rewatch the second half tonight - see his raking pass to Polster that sets up the goal? See him winning a second ball and bursting into the attack for a chance that Nikolic squanders? That is why you give promising 18-year-olds time when it doesn’t seem they deserve it: Because they become 20-year-olds who win you games. And there’s no way to fake it. It’s real game time or nothing. There’s still a long ways to go for Djordje, but on tonight’s evidence, the Fire have a future starter coming up from the academy.
- Kappelhof/Campbell looked decent, aided by the fact that Polster against Piatti is a much more evenly-matched duel than Conner/Piatti or Kappelhof/Piatti. Campbell looked much more comfortable on the ball than previously, maybe because he knew all week he’d be the starter.
- Nikolic will have to find some way to change his trajectory, which at the moment is ‘straight down.’ He didn’t get much to work with, but he snatched at the couple of chances that fell his way, including a ridiculous attempt at a 270-degree swivel-volley when a simpler touch-and-shot was on offer. His body language and his demeanor with the other players make it hard not to credit the rumors that he’s fallen out of favor in the Fire locker room. Did he seriously insinuate that the Fire needed to step up and increase his pay after four months of the season?
- This was a brutally physical match from beginning to end. Toledo let a lot go in the early stages, then tried to slam the door by being very harsh early in the second half. The resulting general spirit of rancor and discord lasted throughout, with hard fouls followed by multiple, gesticulating arguments between players, officials, and staff, followed by more hard fouls, and so on. Blood and thunder, minus the blood. And the thunder.