It may not have earned the three points Frank Yallop and the Chicago Fire so badly craved, but there was much to admire in the resilience the team showed in securing a dramatic 3-3 draw at fellow strugglers Philadelphia Union on Sunday night at PPL Park.
Fresh from the Union’s 1-0 US Open Cup semifinal win over Chicago just four days ago, the Fire (6-12-5, 23 points) knew defeat on the night could have dealt the final blow to their slim hopes of reaching the playoffs.
However, typical of the character and perseverance the team has shown at times this season, Yallop’s men somehow managed to steal a point from the jaws of defeat thanks to a two-goal performance from Kennedy Igboananike, including a stoppage-time equalizer, and the heroics of goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
“It was a topsy-turvy game,” Yallop told reporters after the game. “We got a point out of it, and when it was 2-2 I thought we were going to go on and get the next goal, but it wasn’t to be. Philly kept pushing and had their chances, but we’ll take the point.”
The point could prove vital come season’s end, but with 11 games remaining, Yallop knows he and his team need to start picking up points if they are to make up ground on their playoff rivals. Despite remaining bottom of the Eastern Conference on 23 points, they are just five points adrift of a playoff spot with 33 points still to play for.
“Three points are vital at this time of the season, but you’ll take what you get,” Yallop admitted. “To be honest, I think a point was good for us to get with the chances that Philly had. It was a tough game, it’s a tough place to come after the disappointment of Wednesday night, that was very tough, and our guys dug deep and got something out of the match in the end. That’s all we ask. Now we’ve got two home games in a row [vs. Colorado Rapids and New York Red Bulls], and we’ve got to try to get maximum points out of them and go from there.”
Johnson was the undoubted hero of the night, producing eight terrific saves off the Union’s 11 shots on target, 20 in total, as the Fire withstood persistent attacks on their goal despite their 53-percent advantage in the possession stakes. A crucial and dramatic double save in the 87th minute, his last and perhaps best effort of the night, preserved the Fire’s point as they continue their quest for a first road win after what is now a 21-game winless stretch away from Chicago in all competitions.
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“I thought Sean was outstanding tonight,” Yallop said. “Sean’s a good goalkeeper, and if the ball’s there to be saved, he’ll make the save. It’s not surprising when he makes those saves, he’s in there, he’s a good goalkeeper and he makes the saves when he should.”
Said Johnson of perhaps his best performance in a Fire shirt: “I thought it was a pretty crazy game. For us, it’s something to build on, coming off of a loss, playing in a tough place, I think on the night there were things we could have done better.
“But as a team, the resilience that we showed throughout the 90 minutes was the most important thing and that never-say-die attitude and never giving up on the plays meant we were able to come away with a point tonight.”