Chicago Fire 3 Nikolic 6’, Katai 47’ 52’
New York City FC 2 Tajouri-Shradi 36’, Berget 40’
I’m proud to be a Chicago Fire fan. I love this team so much it hurts.
And it hurts a lot.
It hurts because you have to wade through a lot of bullshit in order to get to the good stuff with this team. Let’s just look at this week: the #Free101 appeal decision that stripped Sector Latino of its supporter group designation, and reports that Aleksandar Katai is almost certainly on his way out after this weekend. When you scope out your lens, the picture doesn’t look much better. This is a club that continuously makes things more difficult than it needs to be— for themselves, for their fans, and for all stakeholders.
It has the effect of making nights like tonight feel smaller. The Men In Red beat one of the stronger teams in MLS tonight, hoisting them over the red line in the Eastern Conference as we tick over into the second half of the season. It ensured that the Fire finished June unbeaten, with two wins and three draws in the league, plus surviving two round of the USOC. This should be a great night. But it’s not, because too many fans had to watch from nearby bars or from the parking lot.
It’s a hell of a thing when you learn something you love doesn’t reciprocate.
I’m not going to talk about the teamsheet. It’s mostly the best we can do, except for the few players fielded out of position. Diego Campos isn’t a fullback. I will never log off.
I will say that I was struck by how out of sorts NYCFC can be when they don’t have their top players on the pitch. I’m still on the Ismael Tajouri-Shradi Hype Train, but New York needs a lot more than him to pose a credible threat. Their early attacks were incidental, while their back line seemed confused and irritable. I wasn’t even surprised when Nemanja Nikolic opened the scoring so early— it was no less than the Fire, or indeed New York, deserved.
Every time the Fire play well this season I get frustrated. “Why is this so rare? Why can’t they do this every game?” But they haven’t lost in June, so maybe this wasn’t as rare as I thought.
Indeed, aside from one or two dubious moments the Fire were in control of things through at least the water break in the first half. It was only after the break when things went sideways. First with Tajouri-Shradi equalizing in the 36th minute, and then with Jo Inge Berget grabbing the lead off a set piece. All that work, all that good stuff to start the game, and the Fire still went into halftime losing at home. Like none of it mattered.
I’m used to Fire-related despair taking hold and refusing to leave once it arrives. I have to admit that Aleksandar Katai’s equalizer moments into the second half took me by surprise.
As did his go-ahead goal five minutes later.
I continuously find myself hypnotized by this man’s footwork. I hope tonight’s not his last game, but if it is, I’m going to treasure nights like tonight. What a joy to watch him in a Fire shirt, however briefly.
Things got a little precarious after the Fire’s third goal. NYC were given too many chances, challenged too infrequently. The pressure only increased as the clock clicked closer to, then past, 90’. Extra time was a nightmare as the Fire held on by their fingernails. I could barely even watch. So many games like this end with an equalizer or a losing goal. We all expected the worst.
But nope. Not tonight. Five minutes into four declared stoppage time minutes, Penso blew the whistle and Katai collapsed into a heap.
I wish the Fire could just be this. This feeling. All the time. No stupid mistakes, no pressuring players to pay their own transfer fees, no embarrassing supporter group bans. This team can be so good if they would just get out of their own way. I reject the idea that we can’t have this without all that. Things could be this good. Things could be even better. The fans deserve that. You deserve that.
The Chicago Fire (6W 5D 7L, 23pts, 6th in the Eastern Conference) are back on the road next weekend as they face the Whitecaps in a week.