Chicago Fire 1 Ellis 61’
Atlanta United 2 Barco 53’, Martinez 57’
In the middle of livetweeting tonight’s game, Ruben posted this:
He’s not wrong. I’m not sure how long entertaining will be enough— for fans, for players, for Velkjo Paunovic. It definitely won’t save anyone’s job come November.
But for now, at least, we can savor tonight as a thrilling contest. Even if we got the short end of the stick when points were doled out.
To the team’s credit, they were set up for the win. You don’t change to an attacking 4-2-3-1 after a month of playing 5-3-2 unless you’re aiming to get something out of the night. You don’t put Bastian Schweinsteiger in the #10 spot unless you’re playing for tricks. You don’t put a rookie in a two-man midfield with a remit to shut down Miguel Almiron— one of the most dangerous attacking players in the league— unless you’re confident he can do the job.
So credit to Pauno. He had a plan, and he was ready to Get Weird in order to get a result.
And credit to this team for pushing Atlanta to the limit. They went blow-to-blow with the visitors throughout the first half, answering every threatening chance by Josef Martinez or Ezequiel Barco or Almiron with an attempt by Nemanja Nikolic or Aleksandar Katai or even Basti. That the score was 0-0 at halftime was a bit of cognitive dissonance; the lack of goals a matter of poor luck or mathematical anomalies than anything the players failed to do.
But as often happens in this stupid and cruel game, the result was decided by four bad minutes.
First, Mo Adams made what was probably his only real mistake of the night in the 53rd minute, but it was enough to set Almiron up to play Barco through on goal for the visitors’ first goal.
And then four minutes later, another lapse in judgment played Darlington Nagbe through, who laid off easily to Martinez for the second.
That killed the game. The Fire refused to accept it, but someone, somewhere, perhaps beyond our kenning, knew.
Chicago pulled one back in the 61st minute, redeeming himself in some small way for an otherwise unimpressive performance tonight (and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, this whole season to date). It capped off a frantic spell of play for both teams, ultimately leaving Atlanta with a fragile lead and plenty of reasons to sweat.
For their part, the Men In Red took it to their guests over the next half hour. Late substitutes offered fresh legs and a different midfield dynamic and new lines of attack. Katai kept pushing. Niko kept pushing. Basti kept pushing. This team did not give up until the referee blew a whistle and told them they had to stop.
That the Fire managed to keep it close against a team that came here against strong favorites, who boast one of the strongest attacks in the league, is something to lift the spirits. Moral victories are derided as consolation for losers, but they can be something to build on. And after the start this team has had to the season, they need to take whatever they can get.
The Fire (2-2-4, 8pts) are back at home on Wednesday night as they host the Montreal Impact.