“You won’t see a better goal...Well…”
Frank Yallop’s voice trailed off. The Chicago Fire head coach was describing Jason Johnson’s sublime 92nd-minute strike to beat Seattle Sounders FC Saturday night, and in doing so, he reminded himself of some of the wonder strikes goals scored against his team at Toyota Park this season.
There was Cyle Larin’s bending shot in the late stages that drew Orlando City level in a 3-2 loss for the Fire back on June 6. Conor Doyle blasted a shot from 25 yards out to give D.C. United a 1-0 victory on June 24. Maybe those were “better” goals. It’s up for debate. But Saturday's feeling of being on the other end of things was priceless.
“In the past year in a half, we’ve witnessed the same type of game go against us,” Harry Shipp said. “I thought we played well throughout the game, and we probably deserved to score two or three goals at least, had a lot of chances. To finally persevere and get a goal, the guys who came on did a great job. It’s what we’re all about right now, battling through. We’ve got guys out, guys injured. To pick up three points is huge for our sake.”
It’s fair to say the Fire earned it. They managed 16 shots against the co-leader of the Western Conference, a side the club had not yet beaten in nine previous tries. The Men In Red held Seattle to 10 shots, four of which were on target. The 18,528 fans saw live the renewed energy and vigor the Fire displayed in a 1-1 draw at Houston on July 3. Fighting back to secure a point gave the team confidence that a pair of U.S. Open Cup wins couldn’t.
“We discovered something about ourselves in the second half in Houston,” Patrick Nyarko said. “To come out with a win, a positive win, in the very next game, is going to catapult us.”
The Fire players gave much of the credit to a replenished lineup. They’re still dealing with a plethora of key injuries (Jeff Larentowicz, Shaun Maloney and David Accam, among them), but the return of Nyarko and Mike Magee has been crucial. They’ve combined to create a multitude of chances, and even though the match was scoreless when they left it, they put Seattle on their heels. Following their departure, Jason Johnson and Michael Stephens combined for the stoppage time winner after fellow reserve Guly do Prado twice came close to breaking the ice.
The Fire's strong record of results with both Nyarko and Magee in the fold is telling, but even more than their attacking savvy, Nyarko and Magee have given the Men In Red a mental edge since their respective returns. It’s been visible in an improved demeanor during training, and the mentality has carried over to matchday.
“I think it’s just the attitude,” Shipp said. “It starts with Mike and Patrick coming back, fresh attitude. You get kind of stale attitude-wise if you’re kind of going through the same thing over and over. To have those guys come in and just kind of kickstart our change of attitude has been huge. It started back in Houston. I know we didn’t win that game, but I think for us, the attitude’s been totally different.”
Two schools with Fire Academy ties will continue their quest for the 2013 NCAA College Cup in the tournament’s third round on Sunday.
Coming off the program’s first ever NCAA tournament win last Sunday vs. Akron, the #9 Marquette Golden Eagles travel to Charlottesville to take on perennial collegiate powerhouse #8 Virginia at noon CT.
Ex-Fire Academy goalkeeper Charlie Lyon made eight saves to push Marquette past the Zips in last week’s 1-0 overtime win and is joined by Fire alums Bryan Ciesulka, Brady Wahl, Louis Bennett II and Eric Pothast on the Golden Eagles squad.
Fans can catch the match LIVE via CBSSports.com beginning at noon CT.
Later that afternoon, catch much-talked about Fire Homegrown Prospect Harry Shipp as he leads #3 Notre Dame against #14 Wake Forest at 6pm CT in South Bend, Ind.
The ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Shipp tallied two goals in the Irish’s 4-0 second round win last weekend over Wisconsin to reserve Sunday’s date vs. the Demon Deacons and is joined in South Bend by fellow Fire Academy alum Danny Lojek.
Catch the game LIVE at 6pm CT on WatchND.com.