We seem to have one do-or-die game every season.
Last year it was the MLS Cup Playoff game against NYRB, which, gracefully, was also the last game of the season for us. In recent seasons it’s come in July or August in the US Open Cup; the league campaign long since lost, the Chicago Fire go all in on the Cup, only to lose in the semifinals. Prior to last year— in which they suffered an early exit at the hands of FC Cincinnati— the Fire had earned four consecutive semifinal berths, only to lose each one.
Our tormentors from the 2015 semifinal have returned. The Philadelphia Union are hosting the Fire for this year’s iteration of the USOC. For both teams, it’s the biggest game of the season.
As has been the case in prior Wooden Spoon seasons— and, make no mistake, Chicago finds themselves in one now— the Fire enter this match as underdogs. Because they’re underdogs no matter who they play against. When you face off against teams like Colorado and Minnesota and Toronto (this season, at least) and can’t get a win, that means every match is a battle against the odds. It’s exhausting— for players, for fans, for anyone with a stake in this team.
The league campaign is basically over. A loss in Philadelphia effectively means the season is over. You could make a defensible argument that this season has been a failure no matter what happens in the Cup. But it’s hard to be a Fire fan without maintaining some sense of hope (which is, to be clear, not the same thing as optimism). Odds and recent history aside, the USOC provides a narrow path to redemption for the Fire. Making it to the Final, or even lifting the trophy, won’t entirely make up for what has been an awful season.
But it’s something. And if you’re a fan of this team, you have to take your joy wherever you can find it.
A win and two losses in their last three MLS games. Any other team would see this as an opportunity. But it’s us, so it’s going to be an uphill climb regardless.
Also relevant: the Union are likely to be a bit tired.
The Union spent 15 hours traveling back from Portland on Sunday.— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) August 7, 2018
Today, Ale Bedoya called it a shitshow. pic.twitter.com/GfkqRM500r
Cleveland; Corrales, Campbell, Kappelhof, Vincent; Hasler, Schweinsteiger, Bronico; Katai, Edwards, Nikolic
Despite shipping two goals, Stefan Cleveland put in a decent performance given that it was A. his first MLS appearance and B. was playing behind a hapless defensive line. With Richard Sanchez out of form, I think Cleveland should be given another chance.
The outfield is probably the strongest lineup we can field right now. Our strongest is still kind of wobbly, but as long as the backline doesn’t make too many stupid mistakes and one of Niko-Katai-Basti can come up big, we might have a chance here.
Keys To The Match
For Real Tho, Score First: Just gonna keep beating this drum. Score first, good stuff will happen.
Don’t Be Accam-odating: David Accam finally figured out how to score for Philly. He just has to play against us, apparently. He likely hasn’t worked out all his resentment yet and will be looking to be the one to knock the Fire out of the Cup. The Men In Red have to figure out some way to mark him out of the game. The Union have other scoring threats, but none will be more motivated than Accam.
Fucking Go For It: We all know the season hinges on this game. The players know it too. There’s no point in playing coy or saving your legs for this weekend. It’s now or never. Do the thing.
How To Watch
Streaming: Chicago-Fire.com or USSoccer.com
Can the Fire save their season and book a place in the Final? Let us know in the comments below!