San Jose reaction

CRANDALL: Fire win creates many 'What if?' scenarios

If…if… if… The word that often precedes seemingly
far-fetched scenarios, usually relating to sports, but also politics, news,
conspiracy… Let’s just agree if’s are used a lot.

What has me starting my sentences with “if” today? Why it
was that mostly impressive 3-0 victory the Fire took over the San Jose
Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, CA last night.

The club’s first win in over a month came with three goals –
the first coming just six minutes after the side set a new personal best for
offensive futility. Rookie defender Steven Kinney continued to prove his
offensive prowess by heading home a corner kick from Freddie Ljungberg in the
39
th minute, ending the club’s 401 minute goal drought which dated
back to Collins John’s 88
th minute free kick against LA Galaxy on
September 4.

The goal gave the side their first lead going into the break
in almost two months, the last time coming with a 3-1 halftime lead on August 1
against the very same Galaxy side.

At the interval I continued to ask myself, “Why couldn’t
Bratislav Ristic have signed sooner?” Having spent most of the summer on trial
with the team, the Serbian midfielder spent most of the previous two matches
slotting in at right back. Last night, the former Club Brugge player combined
well in the middle of the park with Logan Pause, while allowing the Fire to
hold more possession than normal this season.

It begs the question: Where
would this team be if Ristic had been signed earlier in the year?

 Another
impressive performance came from the Fire’s Designated Swede, er.. Player,
Freddie Ljungberg. The former Arsenal winger seemed to fall out of form the
past few matches, failing to provide the extra offensive spark he was brought
to Chicago for. Wednesday night Fire fans took in a performance more in line
with what they first experienced upon his arrival, adding the second goal of
the match before assisting on Patrick Nyarko’s stoppage time strike.

Yes, if you missed it, Nyarko scored a goal. The Ghanaian
winger has arguably been the club’s top offensive performer throughout the
year, burning wing backs with his speed down the flanks and making them look
silly after they’ve caught up to him. Though he’d come close to scoring a few
times this season, he’s found more success dishing the ball across the box
after beating a defender to the end line, a play that has greatly contributed
to his team leading eight assists. Either way, Nyarko ended a personal goal
scoring drought Wednesday night which extended over 33 matches back to August
1, 2009.

Defensively, Carlos de los Cobos’ went experimental across
the back, teaming Dasan Robinson with rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe in the
middle, while welcoming Krzysztof Krol back into the starting lineup for the
first time since August 28 and inserting the aforementioned Kinney at right
back. Though not a perfect outing, it was one of the most solid defensive
performances we’ve seen all season, reminiscent of the team’s effort in their
2-0 win over Houston on April 24.

What else to say? Prior to Wednesday’s match, few Fire fans
would have given their club any shot of extending their season past October 23.
While it’s only one game and three points, it’s an important result for the
team’s psyche – it shows they’re still playing for their playoff lives as well
as pride in finishing strong.

Glancing at the league’s playoff table, it’s pretty evident
the Fire need to win all five remaining matches and hope for help from other
clubs that play Colorado, Seattle and San Jose.
If  they can do the
unthinkable and upend FC Dallas this Saturday, breaking the Hoops 18-match
unbeaten streak which began when the two sides drew 1-1 on May 27 at Toyota
Park, the team’s remaining four-game schedule is very favorable.

In that hypothetical, the Fire would sit on 32 points with
three of their four remaining matches at home against Columbus (October 8),
Kansas City (October 12) and DC United (October 16), before rounding out the
season away to Western Conference bottom feeders Chivas USA (October 23).

One result doesn’t change that much and it’s still a
far-fetched idea, but if the Fire can take three points at Pizza Hut Park
Saturday, the case of the MLS Cup playoff race could certainly become very
interesting.

Jeff Crandall is the Team
Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter
@JefeCrandall.