LA Galaxy 2 Steres 68’, Ibrahimovic 80’
Chicago Fire 1 Sapong 49’
I know we go back and forth on whether the league should align themselves with the FIFA calendar and run from August to May, but there’s something to be said for the MLS season beginning in spring. Much like baseball, the return of soccer around this time every year can serve as a sign of renewal. Of new beginnings. The first few games, especially the first home game, are like opening your windows on that first really nice day of spring.
Points matter. The score matters. Our unofficial motto at Hot Time is “Results, Motherfucker.” No one is suggesting that tonight’s loss doesn’t matter.
What I’m suggesting is that we’re at the beginning of a journey, not the end. And that beginnings are worth enjoying for what they are.
Six new players— four in the Starting XI— made it into the teamsheet tonight. While the uncertainly of throwing in that many newbies at once is definitely cause for concern, it was hard, ahead of kickoff, to be too worried about it. They wouldn’t struggle much more than if they kept the exact group from 2018, and there was every chance that the new blood would invigorate the team. Hopefully.
The new-look Fire showed some real promise early on. David Ousted came up big to stop a free kick. Przemysław Frankowski made some strong runs. Djordje Mihailovic looked very good. You could see this squad become very scary once the rust was shaken out.
Tonight, holding pat would’ve been fine. Not an easy thing to do when your forward line is led by Zlatan, but that’s the job. There were uncomfortable stretches of the first half when the Fire found themselves under siege— and knowing this team, you couldn’t help but wonder when something would give.
The Chicago Fire played some decent attacking soccer and the LA Galaxy looked defensively organized. It’s a new year my dudes.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) March 3, 2019
But through the first half at least, they managed to hold the line. Most of the front four even managed to make David Bingham work for his paycheck. (CJ Sapong frequently found himself a bit isolated up top. It’s a learning process.) Chicago went into the tunnel at halftime nursing a clean sheet.
Too often in 2018 the second half would begin and I’d find myself bracing emotionally for the Fire’s inevitable collapse. I made a conscious decision not to do that tonight. It’s spring. It’s a new season.
And if you, too, are looking for permission to have some hope this year, CJ Sapong gave it to you in the 49th minute. The new signing pounced on a bad backpass, easily rounded Bingham, and slotted into an empty net.
Well hello to you too, CJ.
The 15 minutes following the goal were a wild ride. The Galaxy were panicking. The Fire were trying to keep hold of the momentum and maybe steal another goal before their hosts got their shit together. Frankowski hit the bar. Katai came up wide, then offside. If nothing else, it made for a level of excitement you don’t usually see in Week 1.
If LA were ever going to get their shit together, they were taking their sweet time going about it. Chicago were still torching the hosts in transition. The Galaxy’s back line looked harried and overloaded. That second goal started to feel close at hand.
Alas, the Fire gave up one too many unnecessary corner kicks, and Daniel Steres capitalized to give LA the equalizer.
LA nearly got the go-ahead goal a few minutes later, but David Ousted made a clutch acrobatic save to keep Chicago in the game.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to like him already.
The Fire managed to calm down after a few minutes and push forward again. Sapong nearly restored the lead in the 76th minute, with his close-range shot trickling wide.
This game could’ve gone either way. That it was LA that retook the lead— on 80’, with Zlatan doing Zlatan Things— felt less an indictment on the Fire and more like a bad break. This wasn’t a We Suck moment. This was a Shit Happens moment. It’s Zlatan; what can you do?
Chicago tried to make something happen late but it just didn’t come together. The Fire will get back on the plane later tonight with encouragement and some moral victories, but no points.
We all know that there’s plenty of time for Fire fans to be let down. Again. We’re all quietly bracing ourselves for a season of futility and resentment. But let me submit to you that this is September’s problem. Our future, disappointed selves can process those feelings in the fullness of time. Let us have this time. Let us have a fleeting moment of unvarnished optimism, even as we know how easily the taste can turn bitter in our mouths.
Tonight, it’s early spring. Let’s all get our hopes up.
The Chicago Fire (0-0-1, 0pts) host their first home game of the 2019 season next Saturday when they take on Orlando City.