On Fire: Castillo, John show improvement
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Fire's painful 1-1 draw with LA last Saturday did nothing to help their postseason chances. They remain 11th place overall and seven points behind Seattle for the eighth and final playoff spot. The tie was an absolutely gutting result, as 10-man Chicago took the lead in the 88th minute only to give up an equalizer three minutes later to drop two points.
Three observations from Saturday’s match:
Not so bad
Fire goalie Sean Johnson said it best. Sitting at his locker minutes after Omar Gonzalez’s 91st-minute equalizer, the big 'keeper – not one to hold his tongue – took a step back, looking at the Fire’s disappointing draw in context of the bigger picture.
“We have to take a positive away from the game,” Johnson said. “We were able to get a draw playing with 10 men, and we were even in a position to win it. In the end, we need to walk away and be thankful we didn’t give up three points.”
Johnson is right. To expect anything more than a point against the league leaders after going down a man in the 21st minute and conceding a PK — which Johnson saved — would have been naïve. And though Collins John’s 88th-minute goal gave Chicago a great chance to snatch a win, considering the circumstances, a draw was more than acceptable.
John entered Saturday’s match in the 82nd minute and made an almost immediate impact, scoring a wonderful free kick goal in the 88th to give the Fire the lead.
But the goal wasn’t the only positive aspect of John’s game. The Dutch forward, maligned at times this season for a perceived lack of effort, worked hard on Saturday, running his legs into the ground during his 10-plus minutes on the pitch. If he continues to work hard, he just might turn around what has been a largely disappointing 2010.
Designated Player Nery Castillo, who did not travel with the Fire for their Aug. 28 match in Seattle due to concerns about his fitness level, returned to first-team action Saturday. The Mexican midfielder/forward started against the Galaxy, playing 68 minutes before being subbed off.
Though still not at his best, Castillo looked better on Saturday. He seemed fitter and offered brief glimpses of his prodigious skill, dribbling through Galaxy defenders on a couple of occasions early in the match. There’s certainly still room for improvement, but the Fire should be encouraged by Castillo’s continued progression.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.