Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) vs. Toronto FC (0)
OTF contributor Daniel Casey confronts winning and its consequences…
For now, it appears as though the Chicago Fire on their way to making the playoffs. The idea is shocking given how mediocre the team has been. Or has it? Certainly, the beginning of the season was a disaster, but then changes were made. Prior to June 1, Chicago had eight points (2-2-7) and looked to be diving out of significance early. Then moves were made - the most significant being the trade for soon-to-be MLS MVP Mike Magee.
Magee’s arrival in Chicago turned the team around. Granted, it was still a hard and frustrating summer for the Fire. The addition of Baky Soumare solidified the backline, the dumping of team cancer Sherjill MacDonald and the signing of Juan Luis Anangono breathed new hope into the strike force, and when Arevalo Rios was brought into the midfield to perform the much needed field general role, Chicago found its feet. Since June 1, Chicago is the best team in MLS. Let that sink in – the best team, 41 points (12-5-5). Magee and his fourteen goals (a league leading twenty overall) have made the Fire a contender.
After a shaky September where results swung back and forth, supporters and the team were anxious and desirous of consistency. October is turning into the team’s best month, three straight wins. If there is a time to get hot, it is now. It’s been maddening for supporters. But now we all need to get into a mental place where we can see our team not just making it to the playoffs but progressing. The Chicago Fire have the player who should be league MVP, they are getting hot at the right time, and their rise into the playoffs would make for a superb post-season story.
Several Chicago players are hitting their stride, none more important than Juan Luis Anangono. For the second week, Anangono was a terror to the opposition’s backline. Unfortunately, the strong, quick Ecuadorian didn’t find the back of the net even though he had several chances. And honestly, the win over Toronto FC was ugly.
Although Chicago was the better team throughout (better passing accuracy (74% to 70%), dominating possession) there were clear deficiencies. In the final third, the Fire had a difficult time with poor finishing and with crosses left begging. Also, the Fire had eight total corner kick opportunities but each was poorly executed. If Chicago hopes to make it into the playoffs, it will have to improve its set-piece conversion.
The goal that gave Chicago the full three points was on a Mike Magee penalty kick. The penalty was awarded when a free kick struck Toronto man Jonathan Osorio’s arm in the box. What makes this a shady call is that Osorio was part of the wall confronting the free kick, and when the ball struck him his arms were tight to his body in a standard position while he was turning away. Though perhaps a letter-of-the-law call, you know it was soft at best and most likely erroneous because no supporter on any team would accept that call. I don’t accept that call. In all honesty, Chicago and Toronto should have drawn and the win is an insult to an already much maligned team.
Frankly, Chicago won for the wrong reasons. I cannot lie and say I don’t want the points, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and taints the team should they make it into the playoffs. But just how can the Fire make the playoffs?
The simplest answer: Win at New York next week. What will make it difficult is the New York Red Bulls are on their own amazing run of form, 17 points over their last seven matches. New York, Chicago, and New England are the hottest teams in the league right now and all three are duking it out for spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
A draw or a loss at New York means the Fire have to rely on other results – Houston drawing/losing at DC or New England drawing/losing at Columbus. A draw next week, a Houston win/draw, and a New England win/draw then means Fire Nation would be reliant upon Toronto beating Montreal. I’m uncomfortable with all of these scenarios. Chicago must win. If the Fire wins, they’re in.
Should Chicago close the regular season out with a win or a draw, it looks as though they’ll either play the Knockout Game on October 30th or 31st, or play in the Conference Semifinal the first week of November.
OTF Contributor Daniel Casey writes about soccer hoping someday someone will pay him to do so. He writes regularly for Soccer Newsday, Soccer Without Limits, Football.com, and On The Fire. Follow him on Twitter @misanthropester