Chicago Fire 4 Nikolic 3’ 70’, Katai 28’, De Leeuw 56’
If the Fire win a game and no one’s around to see it, does it really count?
I’m being a bit unfair here. Announced attendance was over 16k; the butts-in-seats number was almost certainly lower, but in terms of size today was a decent crowd. But you couldn’t help but notice how quiet Toyota Park was all day. On the day of what was probably the Fire’s best performance of the season— a rousing 4-0 spanking of Orlando City— most of the yelling you heard on the broadcast was from players and concession vendors. FS1 color commentator Stu Holden said it sounded like a reserve game, and he wasn’t wrong.
A winning team can solve a lot of problems. But as today demonstrated, and has been clear for as long as this front office has pursued open hostilities against Sector Latino and Section 8, winning doesn’t solve every problem.
So first things first: Brandon Vincent being played as a fullback. Incredible. There are so many false dawns with this team that I don’t want to get too excited, but, folks? We might be seeing the end of the Vincent-As-CB farce. Can you imagine?
(Then again, it might just be an indication that Pauno has given up on the season. Supporting evidence for this hypothesis: continuing to play Sanchez in goal and fielding Mihailovic as the #10.)
Heading into kickoff was John Strong and Stu Holden basically apologizing to the audience for showing a game between two bad teams. Strong said Fox selected this game way back near the beginning of the season because the network figured, based on last season, both Chicago and Orlando would be gunning for playoff contention by this point in the season. They didn’t think either team would be fighting for Not Last Place. I can’t say I empathize with a major media corporation— and especially not one owned by Rupert Murdoch— but, like, I get it.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention kickoff being delayed because there was a problem with the net in the south goal. I’ll leave it to our readers to suss out the symbolic resonance here.
Anyway, it didn’t take long for the game to light the fuck up. Less than three minutes in, Dax won the ball in midfield and laid the ball off to MdL, who made a darting run into the box and hit a low cross to Niko for the close-range finish. He got taken out by Joe Bendik and had to come off for a minute, but he got his goal.
So hey, we scored first! And early! Everyone’s feeling good! Sure, a lot of the Fire’s early attacking verve likely was down more to Orlando being terrible, but at this point we have to take the good where we can find it.
Also remarkable in the first 15 minutes: Strong and Holden having an extended conversation about the Section 8 protests. And coming down pretty solidly on S8C’s side. Even offering some (mild) criticism of Nelson Rodriguez and the front office. It was remarkable, if only because we’ve had so few national televised games and this would never happen in the booth with Dan Kelly and Frank Klopas. (Not a dig on them, they have jobs to do and I respect that. But Strong and Holden aren’t beholden to the Fire FO.)
Credit to John Strong, @stuholden and @ipswichtwn (I assume he’s producing today) for putting the spotlight on the Chicago Fire’s supporters club problems.— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) September 16, 2018
“It sounds like a reserve game,” Stu says of the atmosphere at #CHIvORL.
The lack of atmosphere in Chicago is the worst kind of advertisement for #MLS on national TV. It hammers home just how critical supporters are to the product.— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) September 16, 2018
Gonna go out on a limb and guess there won’t be too many national broadcasts next season, though.
Anyway, the Fire did well to control the game through the opening minutes. It’s the kind of performance that you wish you’d seen more of this season. But, here we are.
Basti was nominally fielded as a centerback but spent a lot of time getting forward. As Strong noted, he played wherever he felt like it. With him being who he is and the team being where they are, I think the team needs to accept that he’s going to do whatever he wants.
As I said, Orlando were awful. Bendik tried to be too clever with the ball in his own box and got mugged by Mihailovic, who then calmly laid off to Katai for the empty net finish. 2-0.
And, sure, Orlando were bad. But the Fire have played bad teams this season— Philly, Colorado, Minnesota— and failed to get wins. Being able to beat bad teams is a first step. We were beating a bad team.
Things slowed down toward the end of the first half but Chicago maintained control. Orlando’s plan changed from Try To Score, Somehow to Have Dwyer Take People Out. Hard fouls on Hasler and Basti made for nervous times. But the Fire managed to avoid having to make early subs and conceding goals, and took their 2-0 lead into the tunnel for halftime.
The second half started slow but the Fire more or less maintained their hold on the game. And with Orlando disorganized and listless, it seemed like a third Chicago goal was only a matter of time. That indeed came in the 56th minute, courtesy of the Lion himself.
The Fire were firmly in the driver’s seat but Orlando did get the odd chance. Credit where due, Richard Sanchez did well to tamp down any ideas the visitors had of getting back into the game. Dom Dwyer nearly got Orlando on the board just after the hour mark but Sanchez expertly denied him. Sanchez has had some undeniable rough patches this season, and he might not be our longterm solution at GK, but he did well today and it’s worth acknowledging that.
But it was the forward line that did the most work to smother Orlando’s dreams. A bad giveaway in their defensive half played Raheem Edwards through on goal, who laid it off to Niko at the end of a charging run. Niko easily slotted it past Bendik for Chicago’s fourth on the day and his 14th of the season.
I still wish we could’ve gotten more games like this earlier in the season. Alas, alack, etc.
The rest of the game finished on autopilot. The Fire locked things down, making the odd threat to score a fifth, but otherwise focused on closing the game out. The final whistle blew for what was probably the Fire’s most comprehensive win of the season.
So will we see more of this in the last six games of the season? Who knows. We could easily shit the bed next weekend in Foxboro. We’ve got games against actually decent teams between now and the end of October. There will still be rough patches ahead. Yet if the 2017 season taught us anything, it’s to cherish the good times while you can.
The Chicago Fire (7W 6D 15L, 27pts, 10th in the Eastern Conference) are back at it next Saturday when they head east to take on the Revs.