After another defeat at Toyota Park on Sunday evening, the Chicago Fire are mired in the basement of an ultra-competitive Eastern Conference table after four weekends. One could look at the Fire’s 4-1 defeat at home to Chivas USA and say they are just four points out of a playoff spot with 30 matches left to play. These optimists might note that they are just a win or two away from righting the ship, that they are only one win off the pace at which they started each of the past three seasons.
But more prudent observers would note that they are already 11 points behind a Montreal Impact team that has catapulted to the top of the Eastern heap. The field is not getting any weaker — and two of those three prior seasons that began with four points instead of one ended without a postseason invite. After putting twice the shots on goal as their opponent on Sunday, they lost by three goals.
No, if any team has the right to panic it is Chicago. For over an hour they held firm against Chivas USA, themselves only starting to right their own franchise after floating adrift in a weaker Western Conference. Even after Edgar Mejia put the visitors up 57 minutes into the match with a rocket past goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi (who was starting in place of Sean Johnson, who was gone on U.S. men’s national team duty), Chicago remained calm and leveled seven minutes later on a terrific combination play between Sherjill MacDonald and Patrick Nyarko, assisted by the fresh legs of Maicon Santos.
Then MacDonald exited the game for Quincy Amarikwa, the team struggled to remain in a 4-2-3-1 as Chivas pressured, and it was merely a matter of time before the Fire faded.
A set piece in the 73rd minute sealed Chicago’s fate. Yielding a free kick 25 yards out, the home side presented Mejia with a gift-wrapped opportunity. He didn’t refuse the present, lofting in a ball that found Joaquin Velasquez at the post to head in the eventual winner.
Chicago, deflated, capitulated from there. Agudelo would net a goal for himself two minutes after Velasquez, bending a ball inside the far post after a beautiful set-up by Jorge Villafaña. As the visitors maintained their pressure, the ultimate indignity was forced upon their hosts a minute from stoppage time when Jalil Anibaba put the ball in his own net. Jose Correa, streaking up the right wing, slotted a ball in for Agudelo. Anibaba had to play it or leave it for the striker, but his attempt to put it over the bar for a corner kick fell well under the crossbar.
An ignominious outing for the Fire ended the only way it possibly could, with an ignominious flourish on the final stat sheet. And with the defeat, Chicago — just one point to their name, just one goal to show for 360 minutes of play — sit in the cellar not just of the East but the entire league. Unlike seasons past, little indicates rosier potential for the road ahead.
CHIVAS USA @ CHICAGO FIRE
March 24, 2013
- 57′ — CHV/Edgar Mejia (Juan Agudelo)
- 64′ — CHI/Patrick Nyarko (Sherjill MacDonald, Maicon Santos)
- 73′ — CHV/Joaquin Velasquez (Edgar Mejia)
- 75′ — CHV/Juan Agudelo (Jorge Villafaña)
- 89′ — CHV/Jalil Anibaba (own goal)
- CHI (4-2-3-1): Paolo Tornaghi; Gonzalo Segares, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Wells Thompson; Dan Paladini (Maicon Santos/62′), Jeff Larentowicz; Alex (Yazid Atouba/86′), Chris Rolfe, Patrick Nyarko; Sherjill MacDonald (Quincy Amarikwa/68′)
- CHV (3-4-3): Dan Kennedy; Bobby Burling, Joaquin Velasquez, Mario de Luna; Josue Soto (Jorge Villafaña/45′), Marvin Iraheta (Daniel Antunez/62′), Edgar Mejia, Eric Avila; Carlos Alvarez, Juan Agudelo, Tristan Bowen (Jose Correa/73′)