Published on February 25th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt0
Fire makes statement in 4-1 victory over Toronto FC
The Chicago Fire dismantled a fully loaded Toronto FC side Saturday 4-1 as Michael de Leeuw led the way with a brace to ensure a perfect 6-0 preseason for the Men in Red.
Saturday’s preseason finale was supposed to be Chicago’s biggest test as they took on the reigning Eastern Conference champions who featured Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley in the starting XI. None of that mattered though as Chicago easily absorbed pressure, launched counters and displayed some impressive goal scoring prowess.
After a feeling out period in the opening minutes, the Fire found themselves in control of possession and looking for a way to unlock the final third. But as Juninho scanned the field with the ball at his foot, he decided to take a go from 25 yards out and sent an absolute scorcher past a diving Clint Irwin to the top corner to give the Fire a 1-0 lead just nine minutes in.
Toronto slowly started to establish control of possession as it looked to respond, but the Fire showed off their counter-attack ability. De Leeuw found himself chasing down a seemingly harmless long ball in the 16th minute and as he went for it in Toronto’s box, Irwin came flying off his line and took down de Leeuw for a penalty. Nemanja Nikolic stepped up to the spot and sent another blast to the top corner as Irwin dove the wrong way.
Toronto continued to push and had a few brief moments of danger, mainly from the creative presence of Armando Cooper. Cooper’s shot on goal was Toronto’s best chance, but Giovinco also had a couple attempts at free kicks from dangerous areas that were well defended by the Fire’s walls.
It wasn’t until the 39th minute that Chicago’s counter attack would strike again. David Accam went on a blazing run up the left side with nothing but green ahead of him. As the defense finally closed in, Accam past it back to Nikolic who made a perfect chip toward the goal line. Accam chased it down and sent a tight pass to the far post for de Leeuw who easily tapped it in.
With a 3-0 lead at half, Toronto coach Greg Vanney abandoned his original plan of pushing his starters and swapped off almost every starting player to start the second half. The second half proved to be less dynamic for the Fire but they still looked dangerous throughout.
Nikolic looked to be on his way to his second goal after jumping all over an errant back pass. But he seemed almost surprised as he stood open at the top of the box and could not get a shot off in time.
De Leeuw would be more lethal just minutes later with the back pass he jumped all over. As the Dutch attacker jumped into a passing lane at midfield, he sent the ball way ahead of him and every defender. De Leeuw easily outran the defense and sent a bullet toward the side netting to beat the keeper one-on-one and give Chicago the 4-0 lead in the 74th minute. Toronto scored on a penalty kick in the 89th minute courtesy of Tosaint Ricketts.
The Fire’s performance exceed even the loftiest expectations, outplaying a dangerous Toronto side 3-0 when both teams’ best were on the field. De Leeuw had an especially impressive performance, not only scoring two goals, but drawing a penalty in the box and playing solid defense including taking a hard Giovinco shot off the head as part of the defensive wall.
Dax McCarty lived up to his reputation, shutting down attacks in the midfield and quickly transitioning to offense. Nikolic collected the goal I hoped he would get, hopefully gaining even more confidence heading into the regular season. And Accam showed just how dangerous he can be when defenses can’t just key in on him.
While questions remain at right back and goalkeeper, the Fire are heading into the regular season more dangerous than any time in recent years. The results of preseason do not matter, but the performances just might.
Chicago has become masters at offering up false hope in the preseason, but the history and resumes behind this crop of players putting on these performances creates a feel of legitimacy. There is reason to believe what we have seen in these past six games will continue — starting on March 4.