Chicago Fire 1 Katai 5’
Real Salt Lake 1 Rusnák 33’ (PK)
Remember when we used to have ambitions? Dreams for the future? Remember when we used to want things in life?
It’s not entirely a rhetorical question. If you watch this Fire team often enough— when you see them surrender too many leads, drop points at home week after week, and call that an encouraging sign— you start to lose sense of your own dreams. Whatever gray porridge rut you find yourself in in life, that’s who you are and what you deserve. Striving for anything more just feels wasteful. Unrealistic.
The Fire are a team that slowly make you believe you don’t deserve nice things.
Every game I look for some thread to hang on to, something to give me hope before kickoff. That always becomes harder as the season goes on and the results start to go south. Lately, whatever good thing I can pick out is balanced by nonsense. For all the joy that comes with seeing Mo Adams in the Starting XI, it was countered with the slow realization that we might not have anybody playing right back.
In the opening minutes, it became clear we did have a right back, and it was... Brandt Bronico. Hoo boy.
I had settled in for a long and frustrating evening. But before I could really steel myself for the misery that surely lay ahead, this team started playing with my heart once again. Not even five minutes into the game, Aleksandar Katai hit a free kick from 20-ish yards that squeezed past the wall and slipped past Nick Rimando. 1-0 Fire. The players seemed almost as surprised as we did.
Aleksandar Katai sneaks in the free kick and @ChicagoFire lead 1-0! #CHIvRSL pic.twitter.com/vuEoeFuQ42— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 23, 2019
At this point, though, I know better than to get my hopes up.
The Fire tried to make the most of their momentum, but couldn’t quite connect all the dots. Passes were hit just a little too hard. Attackers were just a step or two behind the ball. Chicago weren’t playing badly, but they definitely didn’t look like they were in control of the game. A slight breeze could’ve wiped out the Fire’s advantage.
It wasn’t a breeze, literally speaking, but the Fire did give up their lead just after the half-hour mark. Baldomero Toledo whistled for a handball foul on Mo Adams in the box, and Albert Rusnák converted easily for the visitors. 1-1.
There was no real sense of urgency following the equalizer. Nico Gaitán tried and ailed to get things going. Bronico tried to look like he knew what he was doing in his new makeshift position. Veljko Paunovic... yelled a lot. All in all, this team played like it was mid-March and they were still trying to figure out who and what they were.
The Fire did manage to keep the score level at halftime. Small victories, at least. Small, meaningless victories.
At halftime, Pauno decided that his Mo Adams experiment was a failure, replacing him with Przemysław Frankowski to start the second half. It made sense— he wasn’t playing well and, at that point, was already on a yellow. The frustrating thing is that he may not get another chance, given how Pauno tends to do things.
Beyond the switch, nothing meaningfully changed in the Fire’s play to start the half. Chicago should’ve had two penalties called in their favor before the hour mark, but with Toledo running the show, the good guys were always going to be on the wrong side of calls.
The Fire managed to pick up the pace a bit, owing to the Frankowski substitution and then more fresh legs in CJ Sapong. But the connections just weren’t being made. The team were just always a little out of sync. The best moments came when Katai and Bronico connected to pull RSL’s defense apart; maybe if they had more time, they could’ve gotten that go-ahead goal.
Over on the Twitters, Ruben said he sense one last play in this team. That play never came. The game ended at 1-1. A draw at home against a beatable team. That’s just what our season is.
The worse thing about tonight was that the Fire didn’t play badly. It just wasn’t good. Certainly not good enough to win. I’m genuinely afraid that this might be the best we can hope for now.
The Chicago Fire (4W 7D 6L, 19pts, 8th place) are back at it on Friday when they take on RBNY on the road.