Orlando City 2 Akindele 05’, Michel 74’
Chicago Fire 5 Smith (OG) 17’, Sapong 61’, Katai 63’, Frankowski 67’ 87’
The Fire entered the 2019 season with high expectations. They fell far short of those expectations.
Yet for all their struggles on the pitch, there were isolated moments of joy to be found. There was the 5-1 thrashing of Atlanta United in July. The 5-0 win over New England that got Brad Friedel fired. The 4-0 win over FC Dallas to retake the Brimstone Cup.
And at the tail end of an otherwise difficult year, the Fire put on another thrilling performance that give us one more thing to celebrate. One more reason to watch this team.
It didn’t start out like that though. It started out like most of the games we’ve seen the Men In Red play this season. The Fire had control of game early; more possession and a high passing percentage, but down on the scoreboard. Tesho Akindele was the man responsible for putting the Lions up 1-0 after a VAR review declared that Orlando City forward Michel was onside on the pass that putt him through. He cut the ball back and Tesho slid it passed Kronholm.
It only took 10 minutes for the Fire to level the score. An Aleksander Katai cross meant for CJ Sapong was deflected into his own net by Kyle Smith, who was looking to make a play. Instead he dragged his team back down to equal status like someone who forgot their fast pass and had to wait in line with everyone else.
After that, the game fell into a state of controlled chaos. The play was as back and forth as it could be with the Fire controlling most of the possession. Kenneth Kronholm made some fantastic saves early on, and the game was a largely positive and entertaining affair.
Yet for all of that, the first half of the match will always be scared by what happened to Orlando City defender Robin Jannson. During the midway point of the half, he went up for a routine challenge, preventing CJ Sapong from flinging a header towards goal. And then he landed. And stayed there, unmoving. The Orlando training staff came on, but that would not be enough, and soon the EMT’s came on to the field with brace, board, and gurney in hand. At the time of this writing, we know that this was a precautionary measure, and that he’s probably going to be okay. But the imagery of EMT’s carting off a player leaves lasting impressions.
It shook up everyone on the filed, and for the rest of the first half, including the nine minutes of added time, both teams looked like they wanted to get to the break as quickly as possible.
As the second half progressed, It was clear that one team was able to move passed the injury and one team was not. The Fire came out of the locker room ready to put the game to bed. Early opportunities on goal were rebuffed shakily by the Orlando defense, and it took only 16 minutes for the visitors to break the deadlock.
A cut back by Przemysław Frankowski by the end-line inside the box was met by the boot of CJ Sapong, who scored for real this time, as cool as you like, and the Fire were up by a goal.
2-1 quickly turned into 3-1 two minutes later, as Aleksander Katai did what Aleksander Katai does; cut inside from the right side and curl one in with his left foot. This time it stayed on the ground and went in, despite a diving Brian Rowe getting a finger to it.
Then just five minutes later it was 4-1 as Frankie put one in with a backheel from the penalty spot that you had to see to believe. Dax McCarty sent a backheel flick across to Frankie off of a ball in from Brandt Bronico, who then trapped it, and instead of turning, hit the ball with his left foot past Rowe, who could nothing about it.
Neither team was done scoring. In the 74th, Benji Michel turned from assist man to goal scorer as he received a pass from Sacha Kljestan, and slid in neatly passed Kronholm to make it 4-2.
For the coup de gras, It was Frankowski again, this time flicking the ball over Rowe before calmly tapping the ball in with his head, giving us our 5-2 final.
In a season filled with disappointment and frustration, this was a joy to watch. Once again, we saw a flash of what could have been— free-flowing dominant soccer full of style and skill that lead to a bundle of goals. This game was fun, and as we turn to next season, it gives us our measuring stick. If we get more games like this next year, we’ll have only joy.
The Chicago Fire finish the 2019 season with a record of 10W-12D-12L and 42 points, in 8th place, and winners of the Brimstone Cup.