Toronto FC 2 Altidore 31’, Osorio 76’
Chicago Fire 2 Sapong 45’+1, Nikolic 62’
On paper, this was a solid result.
The Fire were playing on the road, against a resurgent playoff contender, boasting one of the more exciting new Designated Players in the league, and fought their way to a draw.
It was, objectively, one of the better possible outcomes for this fixture.
The problem is that this team— this front office— would really like you to believe that results like today’s are Good Enough. They’re not.
We’d have to wait another week for Nico Gaitán to make his first start for the Fire. Maybe it was for the best, but, I’m anxious to see what he can do for a full 90. In the meantime, Djordje Mihailovic kept his spot in the Starting XI, while Mo Adams made his second consecutive start.
Early on, Adams seemed to be tasked with marking Alejandro Pozuelo. Given how well he did keeping Kaku in his pocket last week against RBNY, I was excited to see this matchup.
It took a little bit for Adams to find a rhythm, due to him having to do too much too early. The opening minutes in the first half were all Toronto, with the home side peppering David Ousted’s goal and the backline scraping by purely by luck. They weathered that storm, somehow, and the defense managed to pull it together. Then we got to see Adams get to work.
The back half of the pitch still struggled early. A foul on Richie Laryea initially won a penalty call, but it was ultimately waived off as offside. You figure the Fire get— or should get— one mulligan every game. This was it. We still had 70 minutes of soccer left to play.
Toronto kept pinning the Fire way back in their own half, denying them opportunities to play in transition like they were able to against New York. All the while, the home team’s forward line mounted relentless pressure on the backline and Ousted. Before too long, it paid off; Pozuelo combined with Jozy Altidore to snag the opening goal.
The pressure didn’t let up but the Fire eventually managed to put the lid back on. They still struggled to get forward, but it looked like they’d be able to slow the bleeding through the rest of the half, at least. Going into the tunnel down just one goal would feel like an accomplishment, given how limp this team looked at times.
And THEN CJ Sapong did CJ Sapong things.
@BigAfrika88 levels with the lefty chip!#TORvCHI #cf97 pic.twitter.com/ImDYE2jaJU— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) April 6, 2019
So the Fire went into the break with a level score and a spark of belief. Not bad, considering.
The second half began on somewhat more equal terms. The Fire still struggled to really apply pressure, but they at least looked like they were competitors in a match, and not just target practice. Toronto still looked dangerous, but the backline were coping better. If the Fire kept it together and stayed sharp, they might be able to pounce on a moment of weakness.
Which is EXACTLY what happened just after the hour mark. Katai got the ball out wide and hit a low cross just inside the six; the ball found Nemanja Nikolic, who side-footed it into a mostly empty net for his first goal of the season.
GOAL, @niko_nemanja!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 6, 2019
The #CF97 man grabs his first of the year. https://t.co/NpvHmwFNK5
Hot diggity damn.
There was still half an hour to play, and a lot of ways this could go wrong. But all of sudden, it looked like the Fire might actually do something they haven’t done since 2012— win at BMO Field.
That lasted all of 14 minutes. Jonathan Osorio snuck past Johan Kappelhof to fly onto a cross into the box and head the ball past Ousted. 2-2.
The rest of the game was something of a slap fight. Both teams got some licks in— Katai in particular looked dangerous late— but no one could inflict actual damage. The game ended level at 2-2.
So, I don’t know. Things could’ve gone much, much worse. If you just watched the first half, a blowout loss wouldn’t have sounded implausible. That the Fire managed to claw their way back and grab a point is admirable. But at some point, draws and moral victories won’t cut. That point is coming up sooner than anyone in the front office would care to believe.
The Chicago Fire (1W 2D 2L, 5pts) are back home on Friday when they take on Vancouver.