Orlando City 1 Higuita 28’
Chicago Fire 2 Katai 14’, Gordon 82’
I was in a bad mood heading into this game. The Champions League Final was total bullshit. The Red Stars game was patently unacceptable. I was primed to sit through a two-hour car crash with the Fire in the drivers’ seat.
I didn’t expect this.
With team and fan morale at a clear low following a bad run of results and fallout from Nelson Rodriguez’ media roundtable, there was hardly any hope heading into tonight’s clash with Orlando. But somehow this team pulled it off.
So, A). of all, let’s talk about that lineup. Pat McLain starting in goal. Kevin Ellis keeps his starting spot but Brandon Vincent gets benched. Daniel Johnson playing as the #10. I wanted changes to the lineup but... not like this.
So, confidence was low. Chicago’s defending early in the first half didn’t help either. I had braced myself for a shitty end to a shitty day.
And then Aleksandar Katai did a thing. I didn’t even think we were capable of this sort of thing anymore. The despair had settled in deep. This, though? This was like opening the windows on the first nice day of spring.
I did a stupid thing. I let myself dream. I started to think maybe we’d pull it out here. Maybe this is the game where the Fire start turning things around.
14 minutes later, Christian Higuita leveled the score. Too good to be true.
To the Fire’s credit, they didn’t immediately fold after giving up the equalizer. They kept pushing through the rest of the half to get that lead back. In front of a hostile crowd and against a team that was looking to send half of the Men In Red back home in crutches, that absolutely merits a nod of appreciation. I don’t ask much of this team— I just want them to fight for what they want. What we all want.
Both teams went into the tunnel tied at a goal apiece. There are worst ways this could’ve gone. But losing that lead so quickly still stung a bit.
The Fire came out for the second half missing their top goalscorer. I don’t understand why Pauno keeps taking off his most productive attackers when we’re chasing the game, but unless he’s just trying to get fired I would really appreciate it if he’d knock it off.
Whatever momentum or attacking verve they had in the first half seemed utterly sapped for the second. The Fire were reduced to sitting back and absorbing pressure. And not particularly well, either— Sacha Kljestan alone had several good looks at goal, gifted by a Fire backline that seemed continuously at odds with itself. Orlando smelled blood in the water, and Chicago only survived through luck and VAR.
(And Patrick McLain, who, against all reason, had a pretty good game. Some clutch saves kept the Fire in this game at critical moments.)
At length, the Fire worked their way back into the feel of the game. Katai and Campos were combining well. Daniel Johnson did what he could to contribute. Brandt Bronico offered some fresh legs going forward. Maybe things might turn out okay after all.
Alright, so this is the part that certain folks in CF97 Land clicked on just to screencap and get mad about. Yes, Alan Gordon scored the late go-ahead goal. Yes, it was spectacular. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s scored more in the past two months than he did in the three years before that. It also doesn’t change the fact that he called an opponent “faggot” in the middle of a game. Achievements in sports do not actually absolve you of shitty behavior. Weird, I know.
But hey, at least it made some money for Center On Halsted. If he’s never going to make meaningful amends for what he did, and if certain elements in Fire fandom are going to continue to defend him, then the least the rest of us can do is try our hand at some harm reduction.
The Fire got that goal and hung on through the rest of the 90 and then through nearly seven minutes of stoppage time. Even with the (completely bullshit) red card on Mo Adams to cope with. They did it. Somehow. It’s the kind of performance you wish you’d see more often out of this squad.
The Chicago Fire (4-2-6, 14pts, eighth in the Eastern Conference) are back in action on Wednesday night when they face the Philadelphia Union on the road.