Minnesota United 2 (Ibson 55’, Nicholson 66’)
Chicago Fire 1 (Collier 59’)
One of the wonders of the Greatest Game is its breadth of experience. Attend enough soccer matches you will see every kind of human extreme - love, hate, oppression, freedom, revolution, matyrdom; all these outliers show up around around the world’s game in unlikely profusion. Likewise, there are games of football so mundane that they boggle all description save the most banal: Score, scorers, outcome. Some folks kicked a ball about for a while; here’s the score.
This afternoon’s diffident but manful striving by the Chicago Fire - their visit to Minnesota ending in a 2-1 defeat and a long, quiet trip home - seemed mired between the two extremes. Undermanned by injuries and rendered incoherent by unfamiliarity, the Men in Red couldn’t overcome another uneven defensive performance in losing their second consecutive match to open MLS play.
Apparently, losing is still losing, even if one has tried really hard. Like being lost in a maze of twisty passages, all alike, it’s hard to say where the Fire could have turned for a dramatically different outcome, because of the fractal sameness of the 90 minutes of football that produced the result. The Chicago backline looked disjointed and unfamiliar because they were, and so there were problems marking, which made Minnesota’s barrage of crosses a problem without a great solution.
Losing two on the trot to start the season is disappointing, but the lingering feeling after this match was that this was about the best that could be expected. An injury to Matt Polster, the birth of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first child, and the dropping of Christian Dean to the bench in favor of new recruit Kevin Ellis made it seem the team sheet could’ve had “Don’t Expect Too Much” printed across it.
So it came as little surprise that the Fire’s defensive cohesion came apart like a poorly-balanced tire, wobbling harder and harder until it blew out entirely. The first goal, in the 55th minute, was the product of just such a problem - the Fire backline overshifting in pursuit of the ball, which is the sort of thing one does when one starts feeling like “maybe I’m going to have to do all of this myself.” Johan Kappelhof wound up on the Fire’s defensive left wing, trying to stand up Miguel Ibarra, with Ellis stranded in no-man’s land wide left in the penalty area, while everyone in red in the middle of the pitch was desperately running toward their own goal, marking opportunistic runs from the hosts. Ibarra’s cross found the head of Ibson, whose header Richard Sanchez could only parry back to feet for a tap-in: 1-0, Minnesota United.
Or the winner, just 4 minutes after Jason Collier drew the match level for the Fire. Brandon Vincent and Dax McCarty run out to close down Ethan Finlay, then - having moved far enough for neither of them to be useful in any other way defensively - they both simply stopped. running. Finlay, sharp all day and apparently not a guy to sniff at good fortune, took the space and time to line up an inch-perfect cross to Sam Nicholson’s head. Nicholson, whose hard run had beaten backup right back Rafael Ramos to the ball, made no mistake, hammering the winner past a helpless Sanchez.
The Fire’s goal was fluky in a way that points to the general fecklessness of the offense on the day. Collier was game and direct all day while playing in a defensively-demanding wing role, and his charge forward in the 61st was met by a trio of defenders who easily dispossessed him 22 yards from goal. Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo touched the ball back to his keeper, forgetting for a moment (apparently) that he was playing goal-hanging Fire poacher Nemanja Nikolic onside. Nikolic hurriedly smashed a hard shot onto goal that Matt Lampson could only parry into the path of Collier, who had followed the play toward goal. Collier finished simply with the net gaping for a short-lived levelling of accounts.
The Fire (0-2-0) don’t play again for two weeks, returning to action at home against Portland March 31 as part of a doubleheader with the Red Stars.