With just a few weeks left in the season Chicago Fire need to approach every match as a must win. Saturday night was no exception as they played host to Montreal Impact in what proved to be both a very exciting and gut-wrenching match.
As has happened more often than not in 2013, the Fire conceded the opening goal – a 25th minute beauty by league leader Marco Di Vaio. After the opener the two teams battled back and forth with the match remaining 1-0 going into the half.
Knowing that Chicago needed three points from the match, boss Frank Klopas made two halftime substitutions bringing on the attacking players Alex and Chris Rolfe for Logan Pause and Dilly Duka. These substitutions had an immediate impact on the match as the Fire looked the more attacking side and quickly found the equalizer through Mike Magee (57th minute).
Magee would get the 18,000 plus in attendance on their feet again in the 73rd minute when he simply bullied Montreal keeper Troy Perkins out of a ball at his feet and buried the ball in the empty net to put the home side up 2-1.
The building seemed to hit a fever pitch in the 78th minute as Mike Magee (already sitting on a brace and one goal behind Di Vaio for the Golden Boot) stepped to the spot (after Patrick Nyarko was taken down in the box). The stands above the press box seemed to be shaking, the crowd was as loud as I had heard it all season, and it seemed like all was right in the land of the Fire for just one moment. We were about to take a 3-1 lead with ten minutes left, Mike Magee was about to pull himself level with Di Vaio for the Golden Boot, and the Fire were once again surging toward the fifth and final playoff spot. Magee calmly stepped to the spot, made a cheeky start and stop motion to try and fool Perkins and clanged the PK off the crossbar to be cleared from danger by the Montreal defense. As anti-climactic as it was, it wasn’t the end of the world. The Fire still held a 2-1 lead and only had to hold on for ten more minutes plus stoppage time.
But of course, in a season that has been anything but routine, the Fire defense failed to hold the line and in the 87th minute, Impact youth academy product Maxim Tissot netted his first career goal and pulled the Impact level. The match would end in a 2-2 draw that felt like a loss to anyone supporting the Men in Red.
After the match, boss Frank Klopas had this to say about the match, “Every point that we drop we can’t get back. It is an opportunity to be in the final spot. The energy was there, we deserve to win but it doesn't always work out.”
Walking into the locker room for player interviews is always tough after a loss but Saturday night was different. It was evident the second we walked in as certain players hadn’t even made their way to the shower yet. They were just sitting in front of their lockers with their uniforms still on and staring at the ground in disbelief. As awful as I felt for them it renewed my pride in certain members of this club. I want guys who play for the badge and take losses personally like this. I want guys like Mike Magee who, after scoring two goals for the club on the night, took responsibility for the loss because of his missed PK. That loss was nowhere close to on Mike Magee but he stepped up and took responsibility, huge props to him for that.
At the end of the day, the table hasn’t changed much and the Fire are running out of time to move back into the top five. I just don’t know that they’ve got enough left in the tank to make that push. Let’s hope I’m wrong.