Memorable Moments: The Fire Clinch a Playoff Spot
With few days left in the year, we here at Chicago-Fire.com thought it appropriate to take a look back on 10 of the Most Memorable of what turned out to be a very successful year.
As it would be difficult to rank all the instances that pulled together a fantastic 15th year, we'll be listing them chronologically over the next two weeks. Some are club-wide and as the Team Writer, others are of a more personal nature but rest assured that all were special.
On Tuesday, I looked back on Logan Pause’s quick return to the field after suffering a collapsed lung broken ribs. Today, I look back on the weekend of the team’s playoff qualification.
August and September were by far the best months of the 2012 season, with the team going 7-2-0 in nine matches. Of those seven wins, the team came away victorious five times after conceding the first goal.
Heading into the final game of September, Frank Klopas’ side sat second in the Eastern Conference, needing just a win at Sporting KC to go top of the table for the first time since 2008.
Having fallen twice already to the Fire on the year, the hosts had other ideas, using Kei Kamara’s 11th minute goal to go ahead 1-0. With the Fire pressing late for the equalizer, Sporting caught the visitors out once again when Graham Zusi added an insurance goal in stoppage time, sending the team back to Chicago empty handed.
Five days later the team hosted Philadelphia for Anniversary Night at Toyota Park. Even with the likes of Piotr Nowak, Chris Armas and Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the building, the Fire put out one of their poorest performances of the season, falling 3-1 to a Union side they’d beaten by the same score line just two months before.
With the two straight losses came a bit of a reality check. What lied ahead was a difficult away trip three days later at New York where the Red Bulls came into the match with a 10-1-3 home record.
With their two recent losses, playoff qualification continued to hang over the team’s head and in order to head into the upcoming FIFA international break with an postseason berth booked, the Fire would need to win and still get help in another place on the weekend.
HIGHLIGHTS: FIRE 2, NY 0
Despite what looked to be a tough match on paper, Klopas’ side did well to stay compact and pick its moments to go forward, eventually heading into halftime with the score knotted at 0-0.
The Fire would break through 20 minutes into the second frame when Chris Rolfe sprung his attacking partner Sherjill MacDonald through on goal and the Dutchman bagged slid his third goal of the season past Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles.
Thirteen minutes later the Fire’s Dutch Designated Player would push the team to the brink of the playoffs when an uncanny through ball from Daniel Paladini in midfield put MacDonald in to finish past Robles again.
Though they couldn’t fully celebrate playoff qualification on the field, the team left Red Bull Arena with a good sense that the berth would come, needing just a draw or Sporting KC win the following day in Columbus.
Having just watched the likes of Nowak, Hristo Stoitchkov, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Diego Gutierrez and Klopas himself play in a Legends Game to accompany the next day’s Fire Anniversary Party, I walked back into the office at Toyota Park to see Sporting leading Columbus 1-0 at halftime.
The clock ticked slowly but as it crept towards the 90th minute, I readied to let loose on social media that they Fire had officially qualified. Then, like the Crew had so many times that fall, Eddie Gaven tallied a 91st minute goal to equalize late.
Luckily that was all the home side could muster before referee Mark Geiger blew the final whistle to end the match at 1-1.
That match complete, Fire fans that had waited a long two years for a playoff return got their postseason berth and made the next day’s 15th Anniversary celebrations that much sweeter…