Chicago Fire 5 Calvo 4’, Sapong 4’ 37’, Gaitán 13’ (PK), Herbers 44’
Atlanta United 1 Vásquez 58’ (PK)
Toward the end of the first half, a friend of mine posted on Twitter saying— and I’m paraphrasing somewhat here— that being a Fire fan is emotionally exhausted in every single way.
After a month of feeling absolute run down by this team— of dreading another half a season with nothing to play for or believe in— having a night like tonight sure did a number on my heart. I won’t say I feel good, because the result was so obviously a mirage. But I’m choosing to take this as a moment of reprieve. A gift for a long summer holiday.
I was so caught off-guard by the opening few minutes of the game that I ended up deleting a bit over a paragraph that I had pre-written. I felt secure enough doing that because this team, and these games, have become so predictable that these recaps almost write themselves. So, to be clear, the first 15 minutes of tonight’s game threw me for a damn loop.
Four minutes in, as fans were still finding their seats, the chaos started. Nico Gaitán sent a ball into the box from a corner that connected with Francisco Calvo (unmarked, but in fairness, he’s not a player you would think about having to keep an eye on). Calvo got his head on it and powered it past Brad Guzan from ten yards out. 1-0 Fire.
Francisco Calvo with the early strike for @ChicagoFire!#CHIvATL // #SNHUgoals pic.twitter.com/LKi6rb0mtr— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 4, 2019
Three minutes later, CJ Sapong broke through and doubled the lead.
CJ Sapong doubles the lead for @ChicagoFire!#CHIvATL // #SNHUgoals pic.twitter.com/7yDtAGDWFH— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 4, 2019
A few minutes after that, Katai’s attempted low shot in the box was blocked by Leandro González Pirez’ arm. The ref ruled it a handball and a DOGSO after video review. Atlanta were brought down to 10 men and Gaitán’s converted penalty gave the Fire a 3-0 lead.
All this within 15 minutes.
Gaitán with the penalty goal to make it 3! #CHIvATL // #SNHUgoals pic.twitter.com/dMTnQJC31g— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 4, 2019
The rest of the half was... I don’t even know, honestly. I couldn’t tell how much was Chicago pressing their advantage and how much was Atlanta throwing in the towel. Everyone has off nights, but this was something else.
The Fire made it 4-0 in the 37th minute, with Sapong bagging a brace.
CJ Sapong with his second of the night! 4-0 for #cf97!#CHIvATL // #SNHUgoals pic.twitter.com/F8wS0VxJVg— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 4, 2019
And then 5-0 right before halftime thanks to Fabian Herbers.
Fabian Herbers makes it 5️⃣!#CHIvATL // #SNHUgoals pic.twitter.com/jKtRzUwrM6— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 4, 2019
Somehow— somehow— the Fire went into halftime with a 5-0 lead. I didn’t even know what to say or what to do with myself. Ruben said he was “mesmerized.” This whole thing felt like supernatural intervention, like a powerful curse befell the visitors. I just don’t see how this could’ve happened any other way.
Chicago kept at it through the opening of the second half. Katai even nearly made it 6-0 inside the first ten minutes of the half. But this is still the Fire, and they can never make it easy on themselves. Przemysław Frankowski shoved Miles Robinson in the box to concede a penalty, which Brandon Vásquez converted easily. 5-1.
I don’t know about you, but this is when The Fear started to return for me. Even when the Fire are up by four or five, you can’t ever relax with this team. No one expected the Fire to be up 5-0 at halftime; going on to lose 6-5 wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.
This time, at least, The Fear was unfounded. Chicago held it together well enough. Atlanta didn’t even try to put up any kind of fight or go down with some dignity. A couple injuries to visiting players necessitated five minutes of stoppage time— an otherwise ridiculous call, given the scoreline— but it didn’t matter. The Fire managed to close it down.
It would be foolishness— the absolute height of absurdity— to try and tease out any larger meaning from this game. Tonight was an anomaly. It was the result of an improbable set of circumstances that cannot be reproduced.
Not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy this. Indeed, you should savor every drop of salty ATL tears that you can. Just, don’t expect anything like this to happen again any time soon.
The Chicago Fire (5W 7D 7L, 22pts, 8th place) are back at it on the road this Saturday against Sporting Kansas City.