Fire Snap Losing Streak, Spoil Playoff Hopes For New England

Mike DiNovo – USA TODAY Sports

Mike DiNovo – USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but the Chicago Fire gave its supporters something to smile about Saturday night when it defeated the visiting New England Revolution 3-1 at Toyota Park.

The Fire (8-18-6) snapped a five game losing streak and earned just its eighth win on the season. Despite defeating a competitive New England side, it’s a bittersweet pill to swallow.

It was a sloppy night of soccer brought to you by cold and blustery conditions. Both sides struggled to produce anything positive in possession and attacking play in the early going, but the offense began to open up around the 30th minute.

The Fire got a good look at goal in the 29th minute on a quick counter attack, one of the few areas where Chicago has excelled this season. After Razvan Cocis intercepted in defensive midfield and dished to Patrick Nyarko, Nyarko streaked down the right flank with the ball and tried to cross to the middle, but was blocked. He gathered the rebound and found Gilberto in the box for a right-footed blast, but was blocked by New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

After surviving a few early chances by Chicago, the visitors struck in the 31st minute when a floating cross from Chris Tierney found Juan Aguedelo for a headed shot and goal. The young striker overpowered Chicago’s center backs Jeff Larentowicz and Daniel Cyrus to provide the match’s first goal and early lead for New England. The look of frustration on Jeff Larentowicz defined Chicago’s disappointing season. He stood up blaming no one and saying nothing, with a dejected facial expression that seemed to say, ‘This shit again?”

I thought I was all but ready to write my story at that point, with a headline reading something like, “Chicago Fire Sucks at Sports Again.” But, instead of folding in front of an announced home crowd of 16,694, Chicago showed some backbone in the second half.

The Fire came out in the second period with a renewed sense of purpose. Fire wingman Patrick Nyarko started things off with a left-footed shot saved by Shuttleworth in the 50th minute. Just five minutes later, David Accam took matters into his own hands to level the score at one a piece.

Attacking midfielder Harry Shipp fed David Accam the ball about forty yards outside his opponent’s goal, and Accam handled the rest. The Ghanaian international did his best Leo Messi impression, streaking by two final defenders and delivering an untouchable shot and goal to cap off a superb individual effort. Accam leads Chicago scorers with 10 goals on the year, making him one of the few bright spots for the Fire in 2015.

After providing Accam with an assist, Harry Shipp also contributed to the score sheet. Shipp produced a poacher’s goal in the 59th minute when his teammate and wingback Lovel Palmer sent a long, hail marry pass towards Shipp and the Revs’ central defense. Chicago’s sophomore midfielder came away with the ball and calmly slotted a low shot past Shuttleworth for a 2-1 Fire lead.

Jon Busch did more than his part to ensure New England wouldn’t regain the lead. About 10 minutes after Shipp’s impressive goal, New England’s goal-scorer Juan Agudelo nearly found the net twice in quick succession. The young striker probably should have scored, but Busch did well to stop two close-range shots from the dangerous, young striker.

No one knows the old saying, ‘It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,’ like supporters of the Chicago Fire. And it’s not in the optimistic, glass-half-full, sort of way. It’s more like, “Sure, we’re winning, but there’s plenty of time to blow it.” But instead of collapsing in usual Fire fashion, Chicago put the final nail in New England’s coffin with a late, third goal.

Newcomer and Brazilian international Gilberto provided his side with some insurance in the 86th minute, scoring his third goal in two matches. The designated player cleaned up an awkward deflection in front of New England’s goal by connecting with a vicious and remarkable side volley to help guarantee three points and a win for his side.

Notes and Observations

I mentioned in my story last week how important it is for Chicago to finish this forgettable season on a high note. It would be easy for interim coach Brian Bliss and the 2015 Fire to pack it in for next year, but that’s not at all what we saw Saturday. It wasn’t the cleanest match, but Chicago showed resolve and finished scoring opportunities, something it’s struggled dearly with for years on end.

Neither side was very impressive when it came to possession, which perhaps could be attributed to the cold and blustery conditions. But the difference was Chicago’s ability to make good on its second chance opportunities, and by playing to its strengths on offense. This is a counter-attacking side, and the counter was in full effect Saturday.

I thought Harry Shipp did well in his attacking roll, and provided good service to Accam and Gilberto, not to mention the winning goal. Shipp and Accam are two guys that this club can build around going forward.

David Accam is an exciting player and amazing talent, but he needs to learn how to pass. He’s well on his way to becoming a world-class player, and he will be if he can figure out how to better link up with teammates. He and Gilberto could and should be a very feared combination for defenses to face.

Gilberto continued his impressive play in the center forward roll. I thought Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp did well to feed the Brazillion designated player, but Accam and Gilberto were often not on the same page in attacking play. Still, this group once again showed its attacking potential in an impressive win against a tough New England side.

Despite missing out on the playoffs for a third year in a row, the Fire played the role of spoiler Saturday, as it prevented New England from punching its ticket to the 2015 post season. Chicago gets another chance to spoil post-season dreams, as it takes on Supporters’ Shield hopefuls DC United on the road Sunday, October 18. (CSN Chicago – Time TBD)