Chicago Fire 2 Katai 68’, Herbers 77’
Toronto FC 2 Altidore 59’, Gonzalez 80’
This is a weird recap for me, because I don’t really want to talk about the game.
What I want to talk about is how much this weekend of Chicago Soccer was about the ending of things, with new beginnings around the corner but still largely out of view.
This weekend was (effectively) the end of the Fire’s 2019 season. It was the end of their slim playoff hopes, thanks to New England’s win over NYCFC that ended the playoff race regardless of what the result here would’ve been. It was the last real emotional beat of the Andrew Hauptman Era. It was the end of the Fire’s residency in Bridgeview. As Claire noted, it was the end of the Red Stars’ regular season and, likely, nearly the end of this particular chapter in the club’s history as well. It foreshadowed the end of some things here at Hot Time In Old Town— including my tenure here.
For as much as this 2-2 draw at home against Toronto felt like business as usual, there was no escaping the feeling that the current status quo isn’t long for this world. Once the 2020 season begins, Chicago Soccer will look, and feel, very different.
But this is still a recap, so we have to talk about the game itself.
We opened with Toronto putting pressure on the Fire’s back line. Jozy Altidore had a couple near-misses within the opening minutes, and it was only by pure luck that the visitors weren’t up 1-0 before the 20th minute. But soon, momentum swung toward Chicago. Shortly before the half hour mark, Przemysław Frankowski nearly put the Fire ahead, striking from close distance but hitting the post. A few minutes after that, Kenneth Kronholm had to come up with a big save on a corner kick to keep the score level.
It was a much more see-sawing first half than we tend to see, to say the least.
Nemanja Nikolic struggled in the half, either failing to get the ball in a sweet spot or hitting a hard-to-miss shot that nevertheless veered off-target. So many games this season that might have gone differently if Nikolic were able to work through his striker’s block.
For all the back-and-forth, nothing solid materialized. 0-0 at the break.
The second half picked up where the first left off, but the action felt... slower? A little messier? Maybe it was the novelty of the pace had worn off. Either way, there was a growing sense that the Fire needed to score first and score soon.
So of course Toronto ended up grabbing the first goal. 59th minute, beat Francisco Calvo, hit his shot between Kronholm’s legs. 0-1.
The Fire started scrambling to get back into the game. Veljko Paunovic made two substitutions to try and inject some fresh energy into the team; it seemed to work, but this still had a whiff of all those games where the Fire tried to rally from behind and came up short.
But maybe, just maybe, this time would be different. In the 68th minute, Aleksandar Katai, one of the two substitutions made minutes earlier, made a charging run at goal from midfield, got himself one on one with Quentin Westberg, and managed to slip the ball past him and inside the far post. 1-1.
There was a delay in the restart when Westberg called for Toronto’s physio team. After a few minutes of evaluations, Alex Bono checked in to the game to replace him.
A few minutes after, the Fire took advantage of both a shook Toronto side and the energy of the stadium. A cross into the box from Nico Gaitán found Fabian Herbers, who headed it home to give the Fire a 2-1 lead.
That lead lasted all of three minutes, ending with a whimper when Omar Gonzalez headed in off a corner kick. 2-2.
That’s how this game, this season, this dim chapter in Fire history came to an end. Scrambling to regain a lead, having seven whole minutes of stoppage time to make some magic happen, and ultimately coming up short. Fitting, in a way.
I don’t mean to be bitter when I say that. If anything, I’m happy. This is what this particular era for the Chicago Fire meant, for the most part. This game was as close to a representative sample of the past decade and change as you’ll find. It’s good that the game played out n the way that it did. Because things are changing, and when they do, it’s good to get one last look at what you’re walking away from.
I don’t know what Chicago Soccer is going to look like next season. I know it won’t look quite like today, and that’s good, even if it also feels sad. We’ve made a lot of memories in Bridgeview. We’ve lost our voices and had our hearts broken. Today was a good day for taking a look at what we’re walking away from.
I don’t know what’s next, but I’m excited to find out. I hope you are, too.
The Chicago Fire (9W 12D 12L, 39pts, 8th place) officially wrap up the 2019 season next week on the road against Orlando City.