Chicago Fire 1 Nikolic 20’
New York City FC 1 Villa 43’
In previous years, we’ve become accustomed to the Fire phoning it in at this stage of the season. Lingering at the bottom of the table and with nothing to play for, players have been in full-on “let’s just get this over with mode.” The Fire are in a much better place this season, with the Men In Red securing a playoff berth last week. But the #Whatevering was in full effect.
And let me tell you, it was hard to watch. With a boost of confidence and something to play for against a Conference rival, the Fire decided to play for the draw at home in front of a sell-out crowd, teasing out a 1-1 draw against NYCFC. Suboptimal, to say the least.
One of the things that tends to frustrate me, and a number of other Fire fans, is the lack of transparency from the Front Office. So when Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam miss several starts in a row, we’re mostly left to speculate on how bad those injuries really were. Or in the case of Accam, whether an injury really is the problem. I suppose it didn’t matter for tonight; we’re already in the playoffs, and mostly we’re just playing for seeding and pride here. But it’d be nice if people from the technical staff or the FO just levelled with us on what’s going on with the squad. We can take bad news.
In any event, a front three of Niko-Alvarez-Solignac isn’t so bad, even if we can do better. On paper, anyway.
The Fire nearly stole an early lead when Nikolic shook his defender loose in the box and hoofed the ball into the back of the net. But the linesman raised his yellow flag of despair, dashing our hopes and dreams for the future. It was Chicago’s best moment of the opening 15 minutes as they mostly jockeyed for position and tried to see what NYC were about.
But on 20’, they found their opening. Maxi Moralez tried to dribble the ball all the way back to Sean Johnson rather than passing it, presumably because he thought it would be safer. But he got muscled down by Matt Polster inside his own box, and when he lost possession Niko was there to pounce. 1-0 Fire, Niko’s 21st for the season.
Chicago didn’t exactly dominate after the goal, but they were no slouches. They kept their feet in, they contained NYC whenever they got any ideas, and were mostly content to hang tight and wait for the next opportunity.
They did suffer something of a setback before the half-hour mark, when a bad tackle forced Michael de Leeuw out of the game. If the plan was to give David Accam some rest, the plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy.
After the substitution the Fire looked, not out of sorts, but as if they had hit a reset button and had to start all over. Team chemistry is weird, I suppose. But Accam’s entrance reshuffled the Fire’s deck, and they were playing as if it were just after kickoff. But they held their own.
At least until the 43rd minute, when David Villa broke through the lines and leveled the score.
So the Fire went into halftime tied at 1-1. Not a terrible way to end the half, but this team could have— should have— done better.
The second half started off inauspiciously when David Villa tried his luck from 35-40 yards and almost got it under the crossbar. The Fire— which is to say, Matt Lampson— got away with that one, but if you were hoping for something to help settle you down for Act II, this definitely wasn’t it.
After that debacle, the game settled into a sleepy lull. Poking. Prodding. Shuffling. You might even describe it as...
And it stayed boring for a good long while, Matt Lampson’s 65th minute save notwithstanding. I guess the Fire could be forgiven for being okay with a draw at this stage. I would’ve liked to see them push a little harder, but OTOH, I’m not them. They’re the ones who have to go out and do the work. I just get Mad Online about it.
At some point Pauno must’ve realized the team, and the fans, needed a jolt.
That was, unfortunately, the last bit of excitement for Fire fans this game. The team continued their Whatevering and finished the game out at 1-1.
This isn’t the worst result, by any stretch. But it’s worth asking why the Fire, at home and against a team they’re capable of beating, decided to play for the draw. How on earth are they going to get through the playoffs if this is how they roll?
The Chicago Fire (15W 10L 7D, 51pts, 4th place) are off next weekend for a bye week. They’re back on Sunday, October 15th against Philadelphia in their last regular season home game of the season.