What a night at Toyota Park.
After losing the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with New England 2-1, [the Fire stormed back in dramatic fashion tonight, getting a 2-0 victory to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals on a 3-2 aggregate score](http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chi-08-fire-chicago-nov08,0,1950035.story).
Cuauhtemoc Blanco and John Thorrington scored the goals for the Fire, who will take on fourth seeded Real Salt Lake in the Conference Final next Saturday at Toyota Park.
I'm assuming you guys all watched the match and know all about of the highlights (if you don't, you can check out my Tribune article here) so I'll skip the usual match recap song-and-dance for now and just get right to the meat of the story -- the questions for you guys. **1 - What did you think of the play of John Thorrington?**
Thorrington's performance Saturday night reminded me just how much the Fire missed him in his extended injury absence (he had been out since August 29th) and seeing his energy and passion on the field was a welcome sight.
"Intensity is an understatement," Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett said of Thorrington's effort. "The guy's been out for two months, he rolled his ankle really badly on Wednesday and we didn't think he was gonna be able to play. But the guy's a warrior and he brought the fight, the energy, he just brought a lot to our team tonight and guys fed off that. And then obviously he gets the first goal with a great finish [to cap it]."
Thorrington also did a great job defensively. He and Logan Pause turned Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz (New England's best players) into non-factors Saturday night and the importance of that cannot be discounted.
"A lot of their offense starts with [Joseph and Larentowicz] and tonight Logan and John did a really good job on them," Hamlett said. "They were both aware all night and got close to them so they had to play sideways or backwards and I think when you can do that you can limit their influence on the game."
All in all it was a great performance by John tonight. He brought a real 'fire' (pun completely intended...forgive me) to the pitch and it was good to see a Fire player jaw a little bit out there on the field for once.
**2 - What about Cuauhtemoc Blanco's night?**
I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention Blanco's contribution to the team tonight. Apart from scoring the series winning goal (and hitting the crossbar) Blanco was the creative force behind the Fire's attack all night -- dribbling defenders, hitting crosses and playing people through throughout the 90 minutes.
Blanco played with an energy that we sometimes don't see from him and it was pretty clear that he didn't want to see his Fire career come to a close at the hands of the Revs. Like Thorrington, Temo had a great performance tonight. If he continues to play the way he did this evening than the Fire's goal-scoring woes should disappear in a hurry.
**3 - What did you think about Pappa's play?**
As with Thorrington and Blanco, Pappa was great tonight. He still needs to work a bit on his decision making (he got a little too ambitious on a few too many occasions), but Pappa did fantastic with his assist of Thorrington and his trouncing of New England defenders off the dribble. Good to see Marco get back into his early season form in this series.
**4 - How about that Toyota Park atmosphere?**
At 21,528, tonight's crowd was easily the best of the season - in terms of both numbers and voice. Section 8 did a great job with the flags and flares (though word was the Section got locked down after the first round of flares... maybe someone else can expand on that...) and the rest of the crowd was as boisterous as it's ever been. But enough from me, here's what the Fire players and coaches had to say about the crowd...
"It was a special night, a full house."
"The crowd had a huge effect on us. Our guys fed off that for the whole 90 minutes and so hopefully next week we can pack the house like we did tonight."
"It's great. It's so awesome when the atmosphere [is like that]. The fans were great, they inspired the guys to fight for each other."
"The fans were absolutely tremendous tonight. I was telling somebody earlier that they were out there already chanting when I was warming up. It gave me goosebumps just warming up because they were just fantastic. Hopefully we have that same atmosphere next weekend, we're really excited to have that game here. It's not going to be an easy game, Salt Lake had a great win against Columbus, it's going be a battle but it's just nice to have it all on our home field."
"It's the best feeling. Tonight was a great night. The crowd was really into it, it was a really knowledgeable crowd. It's a great feeling and hopefully we can carry it on to the next round."
"We're excited to be home again."
"They were fantastic. I can't remember seeing a crowd like that here. They were energetic from the get go through the end of the game and then after the game too. It was just incredible for us. All the players noticed it and we really feed off that energy."
So give yourself a pat on the back Fire fans. You did a great job tonight too.
**5 - Injury Updates**
A few Fire players were dealing with injuries heading into the game or picked up knocks during the match. Both John Thorrington and Daniel Woolard (neither of whom had played since August) told me they felt good after the game and should be 100% for next week.
Brian McBride also said he should be good to go for the Eastern Conference Final. McBride, who was subbed out in the 55th minute, injured his [IT band](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliotibial_tract) and his leg quickly became too stiff to run on.
"It should be fine by the weekend," said McBride. It's just a matter of me being aggressive with it and getting the fluid out of there."
That's all for me for tonight. I'll be back tomorrow with more coverage of the playoffs so stay tuned for that. Enjoy the rest of the your Saturday night.