“MLS icon,” “EPL veteran,” “USMNT standout,” the “best soccer player from the State of Illinois” are just a few of the ways to describe Chicago area native Brian McBride. With his team needing a spark, the ageless wonder took matters into his own hands and head. He started a play that lead to an open opportunity by Michael Banner in the 36th minute and then in the 40th minute after a fine lead by Justin Mapp, Brian McBride used his trademark header to tie the game up and ultimately earn the Fire a point on a picture perfect night at Toyota Park. FC Dallas who have dominated the Fire at Toyota Park took an early lead on a David Ferreira score in the 5th minute after a misplaced ball by Fire defender Wilman Conde.
FC Dallas coming to Bridgeview represented the only MLS game in four matches by the Fire in a two week period. You could not blame the Fire if they were looking ahead to Sunday’s visit by AC Milan to Toyota Park. Coach Carlos de los Cobos however was looking behind at the poor play by the Fire in the Sister Cities International Cup last week and poor efforts at Toronto and Kansas City earlier in the month of May. Trying to break a 3 game winless streak in league play and the lack of scoring in last week’s Sister Cities Cup we saw de los Cobos employ a 4-4-2 formation with Brian McBride and Patrick Nyarko upfront. Surprisingly, Collins John and Marco Pappa where placed on the bench and Michael Banner was moved into the starting line-up. Not until McBride began to take over in the 30th minute did the new line-up seem to make a difference.
It was a tie game at the half and a slow start to the second half by both teams. In the 58th minute de los Cobos surprised everyone again when Collins John came off the bench not for McBride but for Justin Mapp , who was returning to MLS action after three games out due to an injury. At the same time John came on FC Dallas midfielder Dax MCcarty had to come off due to an injury. The action however stayed slow down and then in the 68th minute Marco Pappa came on for the Fire and shortly thereafter Heath Pearce appeared on the field for Dallas. The Fire while having the better part of the action at this point in the game where not able to make a strong attempt at the Dallas net. Heath Pearce to his credit was effective on the field and created chances for FC Dallas even though he had just returned to the team after not making the US World Cup squad.
Pearce and his teammates dominated the last few minutes of play and the Fire where lucky to hang on for the tie. It was another disappointing result at home for the Fire. Where the Fire looking ahead to AC Milan, too tired after games last week on Wednesday and Saturday, or just not fielding a strong enough line-up yet. With all eyes on the World Cup Fire fans can only hope the coaching staff and front office get to the root of the problem at Toyota Park during the World Cup break.
The Fire in my opinion exposed the problem faced by MLS teams when having to play in the necessary evil of big name friendlies. The lack of effort by the Fire in the Sister Cities Cup was clearly apparent to fans in the stands. The effort and action seen on Thursday night in Bridgeview was miles apart from the level of play in a friendly. The visits by the AC Milan’s and Manchester United of the world have become huge money makers for MLS but, this writer believes they are not worth the inflated ticket prices that they command. In the long run MLS may be more hurt by the more quality of play then helped by the extra revenue. It was good to see the Fire break for the real action of a league opponent even if it did not produce three points.
With great weather over the holiday weekend in Chicago expected and the Fire making the AC Milan game part of all season ticket packages a huge crowd is expected at Toyota Park. Luckily for the Fire the game will fall in between games one and two of the Stanley Cup Finals starting in Chicago on Saturday night. This weekend in Chicago will also feature the return to Chicago for an extended stay of President Obama. His first extended visit since taking office. Before coming home he welcomed the USMNT to the White House before they departed for South Africa. Rumor always has had it the President is a soccer fan. Can a Presidential visit be expected at Toyota Park? Not likely.
Speaking of the USMNT there will be a strong Chicago flavor to the USMNT that is off to South Africa, those with Chicago or Fire ties include both Bob Bradley and his son Michael, former Fire players Carlos Bocanegra, DaMarcus Beasley, and local products Jon Spector and Brad Guzan. Jay DeMerit while a Green Bay native played his college soccer in Chicago. GO USA!