After getting a well-deserved week off to rest their legs, the Fire came into tonight's match against Real Salt Lake ready to start the final two months of the season with yet another road win. And while at times it looked like the Fire would be able to pick up all three points at Rio Tinto Stadium, in the end it wasn't to be, and the two teams played to a 1-1 tie.
The Fire struggled to get settled into the match early on but eventually the side turned it around and started playing some attractive attacking soccer, nearly going ahead in the 24th minute through Brian McBride. But the veteran McBride - who was in the starting lineup for the first time since he underwent shoulder surgery in July - saw his close range header of a Mike Banner free kick somehow miss the target and go over the bar.
The Fire didn't have to wait too much longer to break through though and Chicago took the lead in the 44th minute through forward Chris Rolfe. Rolfe - playing his first game since the announcement that he will be joining Danish club Aalborg at the end of the season - used a chest trap to control an inch-perfect Marco Pappa cross onto his right foot before flicking the ball past keeper Nick Rimando and into the back of the net. Real Salt Lake responded nicely to Rolfe's goal and they should've equalized in the 50th minute of play. But substitute Yura Movsisyan - who, coincidentally, is also headed to Denmark at the end of the year - spoiled a great turn by putting his 6 yard effort wide of the post.
After seeing RSL come incredibly close to equalizing through Movsisyan, the Fire started to play more compactly - a tactic that limited both sides' chances. But RSL continued to attack and they eventually broke through in the 72nd minute, when Jamison Olave equalized.
Olave's goal came courtesy of a big time mental lapse by the Fire's back four, who let the defender streak through the center of the field completely unmarked before he was picked out by an Andy Williams cross at the penalty spot, from where he calmly netted a right footed volley.
Salt Lake, desperate for all three points, continued to put a ton of pressure on the Fire and they nearly took the lead in stoppage time, when Yura Movsisyan hit a long range effort off of the post and out of harm's way.
The Fire - who was without midfielders John Thorrington (hamstring injury) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (stuck in Mexico with problems with his visa) - will be very disappointed that one mental error cost them a victory for what seems like the 100th time this season. That said, I think that a tie is a pretty fair result for this match and that the Fire shouldn't be too upset getting out of the Rio Tinto with a point.
Well, that's all for the match recap, but - as always - I wanted to leave you all with a few questions concerning tonight's match...
**1 -What did you think of McBride's return?**
It wasn't the best night for McBride. He did put himself in some good spots, but his header of Banner's free kick (which was a tremendous ball by the way) was disappointing. It is understandable that McBride struggled a bit - I mean he hadn't played in two months - but hopefully he can get back on form soon, as a return to his goal-scoring ways could mean big things for the Fire.
**2 - How disappointed were you with the Fire giving up another late equalizer?**
This angle is so tired that I considered not even asking this question, but I thought I would provide a forum for you guys to vent a little bit. Personally, tonight's goal for RSL wasn't nearly as painful to see as some of the other late equalizers the Fire has given up this year. Why, you ask? Well, for one thing this game was on the road. For another (and some of you may disagree with me here...), I feel like RSL deserved the goal - and the point. I thought Salt Lake looked likely to score throughout and - honestly - I think that the Fire would've been very lucky had they held onto the clean sheet.
**3 - What positives are you taking away from the game?**
A few encouraging things I saw out there were the play of Chris Rolfe (my Man of the Match) and Wilman Conde. I thought both looked good throughout the match and to have those two out there and firing on all cylinders is a very good thing for the Fire. I also liked Justin Mapp's play, I thought he did pretty well before being taken off in the 68th minute.
Also, just to put things in perspective here, the Fire did get the point against a hot RSL team that plays excellent at home. And they moved into a (admittedly, temporary) tie for first with the result. All in all, not that bad of a night...