New England Revolution 2 Caldwell 62’, Penilla 70’
Chicago Fire 2 Katai 19’, Mancienne (OG) 67’
The Fire aren’t making the playoffs. That much has been clear since at least August, and likely some time before. The US Open Cup is long since lost. You could say the Fire still have pride to play for, but anyone who’s been emotionally invested in this team the last few seasons would have some words about that idea.
Ruben continues to insist that the players still have jobs to fight for. Which is true, and I mostly agree, but with the caveat that a significant number of these guys might not want to come back next year if they had a say.
The Fire do have one thing to play off in this last batch of games in the 2018 season. Spite. New England really needed a win tonight to keep their playoff hopes alive. Despite a shaky all-around performance, and some more questionable displays by our first-choice goalkeeper, the Men In Red were able to tell the Revs and their playoff ambitions to get fucked.
And right now, in the gross beer dregs of the season, that feels pretty damn good.
For the first time... as long as any of us can remember, anyway, Pauno stuck with the same XI two games in a row. Most of the 18 stayed the same, in fact. With one notable exception— new signing Yura Movsisyan, previously a fringe player at RSL who fizzled out and was sent to Sweden just to get him off the roster there, was named to the bench in place of Noted Homophobic Slur Enthusiast Alan Gordon. So, you know, Movsisyan is already paying off.
The game had an energetic, if disjointed, start. Like Ruben, I’m chalking that down to playing on turf. Nikolic had a couple promising looks at goal early on, but those were balanced by the backline and Richard Sanchez being forced to scramble to keep the score level.
It was all threatening to amount to a very loud nothingburger until the 19th minute. Aleksandar Katai mugged Brandon Bye in New England’s defensive third, cut inside, then fired past Brad Knighton to put the Men In Red out in front.
You never want to get too excited too early with this team, even (maybe especially) when they get off to a strong start. Still. So far so good.
The Revs started to assert themselves after the goal, applying considerable pressure for quite a while after the reset. The Fire weathered the storm, for the time being. Michael de Leeuw almost made some real magic after chesting down an excellent ball from Brandt Bronico and hitting a tasty half-volley, hitting it hard but too high.
New England continued to press through the first half and were arguably the better team. But the Fire did well to play prophylactic soccer— identifying what the Revs wanted to do and interfering with their plans. It was by no means a great defensive performance, but it was Good Enough; after the season this team has had, that’s something. It was enough, at least, to give the Fire a 1-0 lead at halftime on hostile ground.
The second half got off to a poor start. Barely two minutes in, the evil turf monster rose up and smote Aleksandar Katai, who came off with an ankle injury. His absence was temporary, thankfully, and he was able to get on with things. Still. Nervous few minutes.
New England were definitely the sharper team coming out of the blocks. The Fire’s defensive organization loosened a bit, opening up gaps for the Revs to exploit. Sanchez’ weak distribution didn’t help matters. You could start to smell an equalizer coming.
The Fire’s first real chance in the half came in the 55th minute. Nikolic got the ball on the breakaway; unable to outrun his marker, he spun on the edge of the 18 and laid the ball off to Djordje Mihailovic. His shot was decent, but Knighton managed to swat it out for a corner.
Yet it really was just a matter of time before the Fire’s wobbly defense cracked. The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute, when Sanchez couldn’t clear a shross and Scott Caldwell managed to poke home at the far post. 1-1.
Here, then, was the Fire we’ve all become accustomed to.
Or so we thought! Not even five minutes later, the Fire managed to hit back on the break; Katai connected with Raheem Edwards, having just come on moments before, who hit a low cross from the left flank that New England were utterly incapable of dealing with. Michael Mancienne inadvertently turned the ball into his own net, gifting Chicago back the lead.
KATAI → EDWARDS → OWN GOAL → WE'RE BACK IN FRONT!— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) September 23, 2018
This still wasn’t a great performance by the Men In Red, so far. But we’ve got to get results any way we can. By hook and by crook, we had a lead on the road with 20 minutes left. We just had to ha-
And then Cristian Penilla leveled again just moments later.
From that point on the Fire seemed focus on holding out for a draw. Edwards continued to offer some bite up front, but for the most part the visitors seemed to shift into Please Don’t Fuck This Up mode.
Around the 75th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger reclaimed possession in his own box and, rather than lay it off to Sanchez to boot up the pitch, dribbled right past him toward the flanks while giving him what looked like a bit of stink eye. I can only imagine what the locker room atmosphere was like after the game.
Movsisyan did indeed make his debut in a Fire shirt, coming on as a late substitute for Mihailovic. Nothing remarkable about him so far. We might need a few more games to get a clearer picture of what, if anything, he can offer.
Late in the second half New England kept giving Basti some lumps, each time keeping him on the floor a little longer. The last time involved what looked like an elbow to the face that brought him down twice within a three or four minute period, serious enough on the second time to warrant treatment on the pitch and, ultimately, his substitution.
The Revs kept pushing for that gamewinning goal but the Fire juuuuust about managed to hang in there. They got their point on the road. It doesn’t count for much, but we may very well have shitcanned New England’s playoff hopes. And hey, that’s something. Spite is a powerful motivator.
The Chicago Fire (7W 7D 15L, 28pts, 10th in the Eastern Conference) continue their slog to the end of the season on Wednesday when they take on NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.