When the season started we all had the hope that comes along with a new campaign. Our Men in Red were sitting atop the table - tied with every other club in the league. We brought in the Uruguayan duo of Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves to provide some spark at the top. Sean Johnson was going to continue to grow and turn into one of the most dominant keepers in the league. We had Gonzalo Segares back for a full season, not just the tail end. And of course we had signed through the 2012 season. Things were looking bright and we were excited to get the new campaign under way.
The 2011 campaign started out with promise, newcomer Diego Chaves netted the lone goal in a 1-1 draw at 2010 MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas.
The Men in Red returned home to take on the newly re-named Sporting Kansas City. Diego Chaves, Gaston Puerari and Marco Pappa all netted goals on that frigid cold March afternoon - and no one seemed to notice that the Fire defense gave up two goals to SKC after they had gone down a man in the 34th minute.
First Half – Fire stepped onto the pitch tonight in front of an energetic 25,000 fans at Red Bull Arena. Nyarko and Oduro showed promise up front at the start, but an early goal from Henry (9’) slowed the Fire’s pace just a bit. A foul by Cuesta in the 14th minute led to a dangerous free kick which the Fire defense handled well. Soon after, Nyarko and Oduro stepped up the offense and brought some life back to the Fire. Fighting off defenders, Patrick Nyarko sent a great pass to Oduro (16’) who finished beautifully to level the score at 1-1. New York had a decent attempt at goal minutes later from a corner, but the header was sent over the crossbar. Chicago came roaring back with two shots missed wide by Pappa in consecutive minutes, then a pass from Pappa to Oduro in the box. Oduro’s chip shot was barely stopped by the Red Bulls’ keeper and Sebastian Grazzini (24’) was there to send the deflection into the net and put the Fire up 2-1. By the way, I want to see as many goals from Grazzini as I can because his celebration dance was spectacular. Sean Johnson made several nice saves in the first half, keeping New York to a single goal. The defense did well to shut down New York’s attacks but looked just a little out of sync at times.
Chicago and New York face off at Red Bull Arena tonight at 6:30. The Red Bulls have played the Fire twice this year at Toyota Park. The first match in June saw a hard-fought 1-1 draw, while the second match, two weeks later, resulted in a 4-0 victory for the Fire. The dominant second match allowed the Fire to advance to the US Open Cup Semifinals, but the victory was assured before kickoff when the Red Bulls sent a small lineup of reserves to Chicago. They have made it clear that they just don’t care about the USOC this year.
They do, however, care about the MLS Cup. NY will be out in force tonight to capture 3 points against last place Chicago. Scoring opportunities for the Fire will be rare, so the offense needs to be precise with their passing and shooting. Mistakes in the attacking third will be very costly in this match. The defense needs to stay strong as most of the game will likely be played on the Fire side of the pitch. Chicago certainly has the ability to throw New York’s attacks off balance, but the trick will be to produce effective counters and hopefully goals.
Catch the game on MY50 at 6:30 tonight. If you can’t watch the game, check out the recap here.
With only 19 points on the season and a place in the MLS cellar, many Chicago Fire supporters are starting to look toward next year to try and have a glimmer of hope. Granted, there is still a hope for some hardware this season as the Men in Red will be playing a US Open Cup semi-final game against the USL Pro Richmond Kickers at Toyota Park on August 30. That game should be a fairly winnable contest which almost assures Fire supporters that they will at least see a championship game in some competition this year. Beyond that, there is not a lot of hope of MLS Cup hardware this season, and so we take a look forward to next season, who has to go and who has to stay?