Sean Johnson Defies Gravity in Fire’s Stunning 3-3 Draw at Philly

Sean Johnson in rare form against Union – Derik Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports

Sean Johnson in rare form against Union – Derik Hamilton – USA TODAY Sports

As I attempted to live tweet the Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union Sunday night, my efforts to keep up with the action fell apart at the end of the match. I was preparing to add my two cents of praise for Sean Johnson’s freakish, game-saving efforts in goal, but soon cut off by Philly striker Sébastien Le Toux scoring to give the Union a 3-2 lead in the 90th minute. This was after the Fire came from behind to tie the game at 2. My thumbs suddenly wanted to type something like, “Here we go again,” or, “Johnson deserves better.”

However, my tweets and thoughts failed me once again just moments later, as Fire striker Kennedy Igboananike emphatically equalized with his second goal of the night for Chicago in the 92nd minute, securing a 3-3 draw and point for his side. My jaw was on the floor in amazement, something I’ve yet to experience covering the Fire. The late win against Seattle and statement game against Dallas were impressive, but Sunday’s match was unreal.

Granted, one point does little for the last place Fire right now. And even though it wasn’t the prettiest soccer, Sunday’s draw was one hell of a match from a neutral perspective. And for Fire manager Frank Yallop and company, it’s nice to know the club still has some fight left in what’s been a mostly dismal season.

The disappointment of 2015 reached new levels last week when the same opponent in the same arena knocked Chicago out of the US Open Cup, and denied the Fire a chance to host the cup final in September. That makes Sunday’s close draw an even tougher pill to swallow for Chicago and its restless supporters. (Those that haven’t jumped ship.) But several standout performances for the Fire might yet give fans something to look forward to.

Sean Johnson was easily man of the match Sunday. The Chicago goalkeeper decided to go beyond the physical spectrum for a few minutes, and made what felt like a dozen world class saves in the span of a few minutes, including a double-save that defies logic. This match would have gotten out of hand early if not for the multiple bursts of goalkeeping madness from Johnson. Despite his eight saves on the night, the defense couldn’t hang on for the full 90, conceding late to Sébastian Le Toux, the man who scored the knock out punch against Chicago last week in the USOC semifinal.

But it was Fire striker Kennedy Igboananike and his side who had the last laugh on Sunday. As the Sons of Ben celebrated Le Toux’s late goal with smoke bombs and all, Igboananike launched a contested shot into the upper 90 with moments remaining in the match. It was the Nigerian’s first MLS goal since June 6, and his first-ever brace in MLS. He also had an assist to Patrick Nyarko to go along with his two goals.

Patrick Nyarko also made it difficult to decide on man of the match, as the Fire veteran shined with a goal and assist on the night. Just minutes into the match, Nyarko sent a sharp pass across the middle to find Igboananike for a graceful tap-in and early lead. Nyarko’s performance left me wondering why he wasn’t in the starting-11, or even used as a sub in last week’s uninspired semifinal loss.

Yallop Puts Maloney On Blast In Front of National Audience

It was interesting to see Frank Yallop’s TV interview for Fox Sports 1 at halftime. When asked how his side can get midfielder and designated player Shaun Maloney more involved, Yallop replied that he needs to want to be involved, which sounded a lot like calling out his million-dollar DP. Yallop isn’t exactly in a position to point fingers, given that his job is likely under review right now. But the skipper has a point. Maloney barely had his name called all night, and I only remembered he was playing because he was eventually subbed off for Harry Shipp.

The added level of energy and control was obvious when Shipp replaced Maloney. It’s sad to say because I think Maloney is a great player, but he clearly has little interest in working hard for this team, at least that’s what I see on the pitch. I find it ironic that a million-dollar player like him is often the last one to break a sweat.

As for Yallop, I couldn’t understand why the manger selected winger and forward David Accam as an option on the bench when he was injured and not going to play. Why waste a spot on the bench? Maybe it was a game-time decision that determined his injury status, but I think  leadership judgments like this have many Fire supporters wondering when Yallop will get the pink slip.

The manager and his club have a lot of work to do if that fate is to be avoided. If Chicago wants to even dream about playoffs, the club will need wins in bunches, something its yet to do all year. It’s a long shot, the longest shot in the league right now, but Sunday’s performance gives me reason to maintain an inkling of hope going forward. I don’t expect much from this club in its current state, but Sunday’s comeback effort had me out of my seat in excitement, which is unfortunately a rare occurrence watching Chicago.

The Fire will face some tough opponents in the coming weeks, including three matches against the streaking New York Red Bulls, but first will host fellow bottom-feeders Colorado Rapids on Saturday, August 22. It’s as good a chance as any for Chicago to return to winning ways. CSN Chicago will broadcast the match at 7:30 p.m. CT.