There were shots off the post, a disallowed goal, more Sean Johnson saves, the dramatic contexts of playoff contention and the last regular season home game of the season - Saturday’s win had a handful of talking points, but it had really only one truly interesting scene: Mike Magee’s game winning penalty.
Because despite the atmosphere and everything that was at stake, the game, in fact was pretty flat. Maybe it was the rain-soaked field, maybe it was a bit of nerves but Fire fans had to be uncomfortable when they saw the first 10 minutes with little of the urgency, high pressure, and high defensive line that pushed the team to those two huge away wins in D.C. and Dallas. Toronto was finding gaps all over the field to exploit and if it wasn’t for such bad finishing by Robert Earnshaw, they would’ve been in front.
The Fire grew into the game, however, and were in control when Magee scored the winning penalty. Then, as we’ve seen for the past month or so, the Fire managed the remainder of the and took all the points.
So maybe it’s good that it wasn’t a spectacle of high drama. Maybe it was just a professional victory -- a cold blooded three point snatch.
But then there was Magee’s PK.
Just a few weeks ago, Magee hit the crossbar with what would’ve been a game winning PK against Montreal. It cost the Fire two crucial points. “Tonight's on me,” he said after the game. “It won't be the last one I miss but I'm confident taking them and I'll bury the next one.”
It’s more or less the approach you expect from someone leading the league in goals and there aren’t many better opportunities to pad your stats than from the penalty spot.
And yet, and YET, Saturday’s PK was terrifying. I didn’t like the way Magee looked, I didn’t like his set up. He kept wiping his hands, and he started his run-up exactly at the whistle. You can often tell if a player’s going to score their PK based on their face, their calm, their approach, and their cool. We all know Magee is cool in front of goal, but wouldn’t the Montreal miss be on his mind? There he was, right in front of Section 8, back in his home city, a stadium chanting MVP - it was a moment, just a second or two, where some people might have thought about the whole chaos of the season. All the missed chances, all the posts they hit, all the points they dropped, all the mistakes and antagonism and pressure.
It happened so fast. Magee didn’t let the moment fester. He knew what he was going to do. He knows where the goal is. He wipes his hands, he tugs his shorts down a bit, he looks at the ref waiting for the whistle. When it comes he leaps off the line like a 5k start, skips a bit to the left of the ball, and approaching it that way, executes the deftest of chips right into where the goalie’s chest would’ve been if he hadn’t dove down to his right, where he thought Magee would go.
What I love about the way he took it is that he seemed to beat the rhythm of the game. I wanted a dramatic pause. I wanted to consider the entire season in the moment, and I wanted him to look straight at the keeper with fire in his eyes, like Rivaldo in 2002. But then, that’s what makes him such a good finisher, isn’t it? It’s the way he seems to catch defenders and goalies unaware. For some goals he’s quicker than you think he can be, and for others he seems to wait an eternity before calmly putting it away. The PK on Saturday was a combination of both. It had the quickness to take a few people by surprise (and short circuit any nerves), and the calmness to chip a Pirlo-esque panenka in front of thousands of people, in the most important game of the season.
After the game, Magee admitted he had some nervousness: “Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle.”
Even when admitting nerves, he sounds like the doubt in his mind didn’t really make him fear not scoring, it just pushed him to score differently.
And so now the Fire go to New York with nerves and doubts, but like Magee, they’ll have to use those doubts to push forward. They’ve learned from their mistakes against Montreal (and Columbus, and etc. etc.) but for three games in a row they’ve managed games and have a chance to finish the season the way Magee finished his PK: maybe a little afraid of the posts, maybe not exactly with the suave calmness of a secure playoff spot, but with a chance to kill it off, take the points, and head into the playoffs.
On Sunday, Chicago’s third annual Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) officially came to a close. The Fire were excited to be one of two sports teams in town (the other being the Bulls) to participate. CIW has quickly grown to be Chicago’s premier event for sharing ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world and getting invited to participate is a great honor.
More than 30 students came to Toyota Park on Friday afternoon to join in our Youth Lab. Representatives from each area of the Front Office set aside their time to give the group a behind-the-scenes look at the Fire, from getting ready for game day to what it takes to be a good corporate citizen, to what it really takes if you want to work in sports. The evening wrapped with an all-access tour of Toyota Park.
While we’re sad to see another Chicago Ideas Week come and go, we were definitely happy to play host this year (even late on a Friday afternoon). Check out https://www.chicagoideas.com/ for more great content from this year’s week.
I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.
Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.
First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:
Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...
Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)
Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)
The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.
Select shots from the Fire's 1-0 win over Toronto FC.
CREDIT: Brian Kersey, Chicago Fire
We continue our Three Questions series, hitting up TFC beat reporter Kurtis Larson to see what's going on with the Reds ahead of Saturday's match...
Jeff Crandall: For the seventh straight season, Toronto FC once again find themselves without a postseason berth. What is the mood around this club in Ontario and is there more hope that under the leadership of Tim Leiweke TFC will begin to realize its potential on the field?
Kurtis Larson: I think there's a bit of cautious optimism circulating the city. Fans have been through this song and dance before. The difference this time around is that TFC has been granted a budget of $26 million to spend on a pair of Designated Players this off-season. Head Coach Ryan Nelsen and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke returned from a European scouting trip this week where they met with agents and clubs.
For once, the team has its salary cap under control after offloading a number of big contracts. During the off-season, you'll see big-money guys like Danny Koevermans and Stefan Frei leave as well. That's a huge turn of events for a team that's always had a ton of guys on cap-killing salaries who have been injured or underperformed.
As a result, fans are optimistic Nelsen has the tools he needs to bring in new talent. And that, combined with the club signing new GM Tim Bezbatchenko, has some fans thinking TFC might turn a corner next year and at least push for a playoff spot.
JC: Stefan Frei hasn’t played an MLS match in two years but with Joe Bendik suspended, the Swiss ‘keeper finds himself in the ironic spot of making his return between the sticks and quite possibly his last appearance for TFC Saturday. How has he approached this week and what is his form like, i.e. how has he performed in reserve matches?
KL: No one is more respected at this club than Stefan Frei, who was arguably one of the top three 'keepers in the league from 2009-10. Had it not been for a horrible spell of injuries -- a broken leg in 2012 and a broken nose this preseason -- he'd likely still have a job.
That said, that was then, this is now and Frei's form is somewhat of an unknown seeing as TFC has only played a handful of reserve games at home this season.
- TACTICAL: Keep up the high pressure vs. TFC
It's imperative that Chicago tests Frei early in this one and makes him work. I'm not entirely confident he'll be able to shake off the cobwebs as quickly as most think.
Don't forget, Frei and Toronto FC were shelled 6-0 the last time the Swiss-born 'keeper was in goal when the Montreal Impact laid waste to TFC in a Canadian Cup match. That couldn't have been good for his confidence.
JC: No matter what they do in their final two matches, Toronto FC will finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. With their first round draft pick sent to Vancouver in the Eric Hassli trade, Toronto has virtually nothing to play for. Still, is the team still approaching Saturday’s game vs. Chicago and the season finale vs. Montreal with something to prove?
KL: I think most of the players will be delighted if they can spoil a few playoff dreams over the next two weeks. Toronto knows Chicago is desperate for three points and will be looking to do what it can to prevent the Fire from walking into the playoffs.
Ironically, if TFC somehow takes all three points at Toyota Park Saturday, they'll be doing rivals the Montreal Impact a great service. As a result, fans are in a catch-22, similar to what we saw during the Panama-U.S. game this week.
The bigger prize for most TFC fans is knocking off Montreal at BMO Field on the final day of the season to hurt the Impact's post-season chances.
Thanks for your time Kurtis!
Follow him on Twitter @KurtLarSUN.
Chicago Fire Season Ticket Holders,
As a token of our appreciation for your loyal support in 2013, Toyota Park will be honoring ALL Season Ticket Holder discounts on concessions for Saturday's home regular season finale vs. Toronto FC.
Those are (and where you can find them...)
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Village Grill (behind Section 134)
$2 Hot Dogs
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Extreme Signature Dogs (behind Section 108)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Chicago Stop (behind Section 118)
Corner Kickin' Chicken (behind Section 122)
Sold at ALL concession stands
Plus complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and cider for premium seat holders (Club, Fieldside, Suites) and 10% off the pre-game buffet in the Stadium Club!
With two massive road victories under their belt, the Fire play the final regular season game of 2013 at Toyota Park against Toronto FC on Saturday night (LIVE 7pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports Wisconsin).
With six goals scored in the last two matches, the Men in Red are hitting form at the right time and know if results go their way, they could be guaranteed an MLS Cup Playoff spot by the final whistle. Toronto have nothing to play for but will be looking to play spoiler. Here are some tactical things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Keeping up the high pressure tactic – play a high line and get players into the TFC box
As I mentioned before, the Fire have scored six goals in the last two games. The closest to that tally in a previous two-game MLS span has been four goals. With that in mind, the Men in Red must try and get people into the box whenever possible against Toronto.
In many games this season, Toronto have not been undone by individual brilliance, but rather defensive errors. TFC coach Ryan Nelson, a former defender, must be disgusted by the amount of tap in goals his team has allowed with Sporting KC, Montreal and New York all scoring simple goals against Toronto and all stemming from defenders ball watching and not following their marks.
The Fire need to try and take advantage of this by getting more players from the midfield into the box to support assumed strikers Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangono. The high pressure tactic can be very beneficial to this, with players like Alex not allowing the defenders to have time and space on the ball. With the team playing a high line and not dropping deep, it will give players an opportunity to get forward and into the box faster.
The Rios conundrum – who to start in the center of midfield?
Arevalo Rios played two grueling matches for Uruguay over the past week, helping La Celeste qualify for the World Cup intercontinental playoff against Jordan.
After playing 180 minutes for his country and only returning to Chicago on Thursday, it might be difficult for him to start in the middle for the Fire on Saturday night.
WATCH: Magee, Berry talk Toronto FC
One reason that the coaching staff might decide to start Rios however is that Jeff Larentowicz is currently sitting on four yellow cards and one more against TFC would rule him out of the season finale at New York next Sunday.
Another option for the Men in Red could be to start Larentowicz and bring on Rios for the former New England man if the Fire are in a comfortable position.
That being said, as we have seen from the past two games, the high pressure tactic is effective regardless of who starts in the middle.
Muzzling Bobby Convey – a danger on both wings
Bobby Convey is one of the few players to have a strong year for TFC and the Fire must not allow him to create chances for target striker Bright Dike. Convey is equally comfortable playing on either wing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started on the right where he would link up with improving right back Mark Bloom.
While Bakary Soumare has found form again in the last few matches after having a few horror moments previously, Gonzalo Segares is a player that will be looking to have a better performance against TFC.
In 1v1 situations, Sega is very difficult to beat but the problems start when players make runs in behind him. The Costa Rican can sometimes be caught too high up the field while other times he is forced to move inside to cover for one of the center backs. Both of these were highlighted in last weekend’s match against Dallas.
Against Toronto, I would also like to see the Fire’s outside midfielder track back and help out Segares more, especially if Bloom gets forward. A composed and compact performance by the Fire’s back four as a unit will give the team a very good chance of coming out of the game with three points and maybe even a guaranteed playoff spot.
Prediction: After having to endure a nervy end to last week’s match, the Fire make it easier on fans by winning 2-0 with goals from Alex and Mike Magee.
— Raquel (@raquelelekes) October 15, 2013
THIS LADY, KNOWS WHAT'S UP!
@ChicagoFire ITS ON!!
— Sandra (@hondagirl528) October 16, 2013
Like Donkey Kong.
— Meli Lembo (@meli_lembo) October 16, 2013
Hey, Adam Levine... Hunter Jumper's comin' for you.
— Erin McNamara (@MsErinEMcNamara) October 16, 2013
Just like a playoff race in October, huh? (You can get your tickets here, you're welcome.)
— Chalonda Harris (@HoneyChyldMUA) October 16, 2013
Cool with us... You'll have to bring your own make-up though... @Jefecrandall has run us dry on eyeliner.
Hey, look at that... For his vaillant performance en route to a win over FC Dallas, the folks over at MLSsoccer.com decided to make Mike Magee the #3 performer of the week!
And since we're on the subject of Mike Magee, we would like to subtly steer you in the direction to support him to be the MLS MVP. Check out the video below!