In their return to Bridgeview following three weeks on the road, the Chicago Fire’s authoritative 4-1 victory over the reigning MLS champs spoke to the truth that the Men in Red are just like every other team in the league – and that’s not a bad thing.
Second-half goals from David Accam in the 59’, Solignac in the 73’, and Nemanja Nikolic in the 76’ were more than enough to continue the Fire’s at-home unbeaten streak in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,153 – the likes of which Toyota Park hasn’t seen in a regular season match since hosting Kaka’s Orlando City SC in 2015.
Nemanja Nikolic’s second-half score was a for-good-measure follow up to his penalty kick in the first half, which initially put the Fire up 1-0. With eight goals in ten matches this season for Nikolic, the Hungarian striker has brought himself even with Houston’s Erick Torres in the MLS’s Golden Boot Race, and is evidently shaping up to be one of the most dangerous attacking threats in the MLS.
Truthfully, the Fire’s first goal from the Nikolic penalty kick seemed to rely on a small stroke of fate, as David Accam’s initially failed attempt – a slow bouncing strike to the chest of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei – was called back after Frei stepped up from his line too early.
However, despite trailing in possession by 20 percent at the half and heading to the locker room after a silencing upper-ninety rocket from Clint Dempsey, the Men in Red returned to the field poised to show a sold-out Toyota Park that this season is different.
In previous years, the Fire would have been lucky to keep the game even until the final whistle. Tonight, three second-half goals from three different players was telling of a much different story from an equally better team.
Of course, it’s always easier to play in front of a lively crowd, and the entire stadium seemed to be pulsing with energy for the entire ninety minutes. With every seat filled, many fans were left standing on the north side of the stadium, but according to head coach Veljko Paunovic there weren’t any frowns in or around the venue tonight:
“The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally. It’s not only one game. This is the general feeling that our team has in the locker room, outside of the locker room, when we are downtown in the city, wherever we are we can feel there is a passion about the team.”
By the end of the match, the Fire brought their possession back up to 47 percent compared to the Sounders’ 53 percent, totaled 15 shots with six on target, and slotted home three more goals. One of those goals by the way was an absolute blast from an increasingly lively David Accam right foot that skirted just inside the near post.
The Fire’s rout of Dempsey’s struggling Sounders was certainly not one that carried the European airs of seamless possession football, even considering the fact that Paunovic’s boys were able to close the gap in time on the ball. It was instead the club’s ability to play quick, well-timed, and relentless counter-attacking soccer that resulted in the fashionable trouncing of last year’s champions.
This win made for the Fire’s first in four games, and secured their place above the red playoff line in the Eastern Conference (for now). No, they’re not the best team in the MLS right now, not even close.
Yet, they’re certainly no longer the worst. What was once a team that spent its existence at the bottom of the table has slowly been evolving into a club that the rest of the league must take seriously. With Nikolic at the top of his game, and Accam at his side with a finally familiar swagger on the ball, anything can happen for this McCarty and Schweinsteiger led club.
For now, the Fire are a middle-of-the-pack type of machine. Some weeks they’ll lose badly (probably on the road), and some they’ll win gloriously (most likely at home). Still, that’s good enough for now, according to most Fire supporters.
The fact is, the Chicago Fire are evidently playoff contenders again, and tonight’s dominant performance should be enough to tell you why.