MLS is a strange and wonderful beast. Coming into last week, the Fire were dead in the water, and the big collapse against the Columbus Crew seemed like the final nail in the coffin. But as it turned out, the first-half performance was more indicative of what was to come than the second. Since that game, the soon-to-be again Men in Red have won three in a row by a combined score of 6-1 and find themselves in ninth place— two points back of a playoff spot.
It has come together brilliantly for the club. The improvement of Jhon Duran from the beginning of the season to now has been exponential, and he’s grabbed the number 1 striker spot and doesn’t look like he’s letting it go anytime soon. Chris Mueller, along with a few other signings that haven’t made themselves known on the senior roster, might be the single most impactful signing in club history. And Xherdan Shaqiri with his goal and assist is finally coming good.
The Fire were dominant in the first half, just like against the Crew. With an almost 70/30 possession split in their favor, the local XI created a plethora of chances in front of goal and were close to scoring multiple times if it weren’t for some good emergency defending from the Whitecaps. However, in the 13th minute, Vancouver fell asleep on their own throw-in. Federico Navarro intercepted the ball and slid it across to Shaqiri, who did not miss from 25 yards. The Fire had a brief scare at the end of the half, but Gabriel Slonina made a brilliant athletic play to keep the ball from getting past him and the Fire went into the break up a goal.
Vancouver came out swinging in the second half and tied the game in the 54th minute. Sekulic got caught cheating to Vancouver’s strong side and a good diagonal ball beat him. A cross from Gauld found Cavallini who got free from Rafael Czichos and scored. The captain would make up for his blunder by getting the Fire back in front. A cross from a recycled corner by Chris Mueller found the captain's head and the Fire were back in the lead.
From there, It was mostly Fire. Vancouver had a couple of half chances but the Fire were well organized and didn’t allow much in the way of offense for the Canadian outfit. In the 90th minute, Mueller finished off a counter to send the fans home sad and send the Fire up three places in the table. A good defensive play by Carlos Teran started the break that ended in the goal. Mueller had been looking for the 18-yard curler all night, and finally found it to close out the game.
The Fire are back within striking distance of the playoffs. They are a talented enough team to get there, and after fits and spurts of quality mixed with fatal mistakes during the first half of the season, finally have momentum going into the second half. This team can do this. They just have to keep it up.