Chicago Fire 3 Mihailovic 20’, Nikolic (PK) 29’, Katai 66’
Los Angeles FC 1 Rossi 73’
What the hell, Fire.
What the actual hell.
You went up against one of the best teams in the league, at a point in this dismal underperforming season when nothing matters anymore, and you straight-up mugged them. Where did this come from? I think we all deserve to know how it is you managed to dig this deep to get this result.
And then we’d like to know why you’ve been holding back all season.’
On the one hand, I was glad to see Cleveland in goal again. Giving him a real look ahead of the offseason is one of the best things Pauno can do right now. On the other hand, none of the other fringe players in the squad are really getting that chance. Most of the outfield is just Pauno’s preferred starters. He’s trying to have it both ways and it’s hurting the team right now. (She said, not for the first time this season.)
Side note: I really wish the Twitter streams gave the option to switch to the Spanish language broadcast. Univision’s English commentary is... bad.
At one point early in the first half one of the commentators said that the Fire are in a good position because they’re already out of playoff contention; no pressure means they’re free to play how they want. I wondered if he has watched this team at all this season. Or, indeed, in this game.
Because this Fire team did not look unburdened or ready to grab this game by the reins. They looked tired and sad. Like they have for much of this season. Like we all do at this point.
So much so that Djordje Mihailovic’s banger— stunning though it was— felt like too much of a fluke to really savor.
But a lead is a lead.
LAFC came roaring back after that. The pressure was dialed up to 11 since the restart. You expected the visitors to get that goal back any second.
So when Chris Penso— of all people!— awarded a penalty to Chicago just seven minutes later. Nikolic converted and the Fire were up 2-0. Somehow.
What was even happening?
LAFC were clearly the better side here but the Fire were winning. Sure, the visitors were a bit slow in transition, but there’s no natural reason why the Fire should have a two-goal lead here. Eldritch machinations must have been at work.
LA kept pressing to get back into the game but, thanks in no small part to Cleveland’s best Superman impression, the Fire somehow, somehow, managed to hang on to this lead through 45 minutes.
And they continued hanging in there through the start of the second half. The Fire even managed to almost make it 3-0 through Michael de Leeuw soon before the hour mark, whose goal was ruled offside.
Cleveland continued to play well. The backline held pat. Raheem Edwards was having himself a game. The team was clicking.
And then! Having just come on moments earlier, Aleksandar Katai hit LAFC on the counterattack and put the Fire ahead 3-0.
Maybe... maybe I was wrong earlier. Maybe the Fire were indeed feeling a burden lifted.
Of course, nothing comes easy for this team, even when things are going well. Diego Rossi hit an amazing off-angle shot in the box that Cleveland could do nothing about. 3-1 with 17 minutes in regulation.
The proceedings became much more tense, as one might expect. If the Fire had to scramble at various moments earlier in the game, the last 15-20 minutes were real mf’n’ hanging-on-by-fingertips hours. Subbing in Jonathan Campbell certainly helped, as did LA running low on gas once stoppage time kicked in, but it was still nervy.
Wouldn’t you know it, though. The Fire held on and won.
You could dismiss the Orlando win a few weeks ago on the weakness of the opposition. Today, though? The Fire earned today.
It’s just too bad they couldn’t play like this in April and May.
The Chicago Fire (8W 7D 16L, 31pts, 9th in the Eastern Conference) are on the road next Sunday when they take on DC United.