Wednesday August 18, 2010 saw the New England Revolution return to Toyota Park for a MLS match-up versus the Fire. Just last month New England had visited the Fire in a Super Liga fixture that saw the visitors seal the fate of the Fire in the tournament. Both teams came in desperate for a win, each having just 21 points on the season and therefore both currently outside of the playoff picture. The Fire were not the team that the Revs beat last month but a new side effectively with the likes of Swedish star Freddie Ljungberg, the Mexican National Team standout Nery Castillo, and the return from Europe of the Fire defender Gonzalo Seagares all in a Fire uniform for the first time. Additionally, Fire rookie Sean Johnson has taken over in the net for the Fire with outstanding results since the teams last meeting.
The streaking Revs came into the game not having lost in their last eight outings in all competitions and took the early lead with a goal in the 15th minute of play after a turnover of the ball by Chicago defender Wilman Conde. There was little Sean Johnson could do after Revs forward Marko Perovic picked the up the ball after the Conde error and tapped the ball into the net past an on rushing Johnson. In the 31st minute Chicago’s own Bagio Husdic made the University of Illinois at Chicago proud by picking up a deflected ball from a Brian McBride shot and evening the score at one all for his fourth goal of the season. The Fire and the lively Fire crowd seemed to be energized by the score and begin thereafter to take control of the game. Chicago having come off of a ten day lay-off appeared to have energy to burn and the Revs seemed to be fading as the first half ran down. The thought of their next two games on the road and then a return home to play the Galaxy had to be creating a real sense of a must win for the Fire. Despite the Fire’s command of the game the last part of the first half the score remained all even at halftime.
The second half opened with Mike Banner coming in for Nery Castillo who is still not ready for a full ninety minutes of action. Freddie Ljungberg clearly became the man in charge of the Fire offense and lead an early charge that kept the ball in the offensive zone for most of the first minutes ten minutes of the second half. The New England veteran keeper Matt Reis kept Chicago off the scoreboard despite the pressure from the Fire. The game settled into pattern of harmless midfield action as the 70th minute mark was reached. As the game moved past the 80th minute it was clear the Chicago needed to score and New England would be happy with the road draw to keep their unbeaten spell alive.
Finally in the 86th minute often injured Calen Carr put a shot in from the top of the box past Matt Reis for his first goal of the campaign. To his credit Carr gave praise to Freddie Ljungberg for finding him prior to his run for the winning goal. The last few minutes of the game saw a frantic New England team using hard play to get an equalizer. Despite the increased physical nature of the game which continued past the final whistle the Revs went home the loser. Chicago had a badly needed three points before the weekend trip to Texas to face the Dynamo in Houston.
The Fire did what was needed. A defeat may well have proved fatal to their playoff chances. Even with the win they are still looking up at three teams in the Eastern Conference. The weekend sees them in Houston and then the following week it’s off to Seattle where the great Seattle fans are already waiting for the return of Freddie Ljungberg. Ljungberg has clearly made an impact on the offense and has given the rest of the team the freedom to roam the field as defenses seem to concentrate on him with or without the ball. He especially seems to work well with fellow EPL alumni Brain McBride and the veteran forward appears to have the step and leap back in his game after Ljungbergs arrival in the Windy City. Nery Castillo has to find himself with this squad for the Fire to be successful on the road trip ahead. One would have to think that Castillo must play a large part if the Fire are to come home with six points.
Ultimately in all sports it is defense that wins titles. While the front office must receive credit for Chicago’s recent upswing, the development of rookie keeper Sean Johnson has to be considered the key to Chicago’s recent success. Yes, he has made great saves but so did Andrew Dkystra earlier in the season. What was lacking was the field leadership from the net after the Fire released Jon Busch before the season started. It is remarkable the maturity and knowledge of the game that Johnson has shown in his very first year in the league. When the Fire returns to Chicago summer will be at it’s end, but it looks like Toyota Park will be host to a hot team this fall.