The Philadelphia Union and the Chicago Fire conspired to draw 3-3 on Sunday night. There were a lot of goals and a lot of saves, and some other things happened.
There were a lot of goals
Kennedy Igboananike opened up the scoring in the 10th minute. After exploiting the space that Fabinho afforded them by pushing up high, the Fire were happy to punish what remained of the Union's back line. From the touchline, Patrick Nyarko hit a cross past Richie Marquez, who had come all the way out to cover for his teammate. Meanwhile, Igboananike slipped in between Steven Vitoria and Ray Gaddis before touching home the game's first goal.
The Union hit back relatively quickly, finding their equalizer on a corner. Fernando Aristeguieta, in his first MLS start since June 3rd, speared a ball sent in by Cristian Maidana, sending it past Chicago's Sean Johnson (Maidana Assist Counter: 1; 12th on the season).
Fabinho (Fabinho!) extended the lead in the 32nd after a well-worked counter. Tranquillo Barnetta kicked the whole thing into motion after recovering a loose ball. Cristian Maidana received Ochocinco's pass and looked forward for Fabinho, whose blast skipped off a Fire defender and into the net (Maidana Assist Counter: 2; 13th on the season). Fabinho's shot appeared to be off-target, but his name is still on the goal.
Chicago brought the game level ten minutes into the second half. Kennedy Igboananike's fancy dancing fooled Ray Gaddis just enough for the forward to get past him and square the ball. Patrick Nyarko got on the end of it and took advantage of the best chance of his career. Fabinho watched.
As the game wound down and a draw seemed imminent, Jim Curtin threw on CJ Sapong and Sebastien Le Toux to see if they could find a winner. The Union bombarded the opposing goal for the game's final 15 minutes, but were unaware that Sean Johnson turned into Guillermo Ochoa from that Allstate commercial. We'll get to him later.
In the 90th minute, Cristian Maidana slid a cross-field pass to Sebastien Le Toux. He held the ball up long enough for Lovel Palmer to recover, but Le Toux's shot split Palmer's legs before splitting the goalposts (Maidana Assist Counter: 3; 14th on the season, the highest single-season total of any Union player and the most in the 2015 Major League Soccer season).
To take all three points, the Union needed their lead to hold for five minutes. It lasted one.
The Chicago Fire's third goal was, as Jim Curtin put it after the game, a "complete debacle." The equalizer started contentiously, as Jason Johnson was deemed (by everyone but the assistant referee) to have handled the ball out on the touchline. Play was allowed to carry on, and Michael Stephens hit an entry pass to Harry Shipp just a few seconds after Johnson's perceived infraction. As the ball hovered over the endline, Shipp tried to knock it to nearby Mike Magee in a desperate attempt to salvage the play. Magee's touch nearly sent the ball over the endline yet again, so he too passed it into space in the hope that a teammate would be there. Kennedy Igboananike, who shared the misfortune of having to watch that whole...thing unfold, roofed the bouncing ball for the game's sixth, and, mercifully, final goal.
There were a lot of saves
Sean Johnson's first save came in the 24th minute, when he parried Cristian Maidana's free kick effort from the top of the box. It was a vicious shot on its way to the top corner, but Johnson read it all the way.
As amazing as the save was, that was just the appetizer. The entree came 50 minutes later. Sean Johnson is a terrible waiter, but he's a damn good goalkeeper.
In an 11-minute stretch that started in the 76th minute, Johnson faced six shots on target and saved them all, topping himself with each successive save. Here are most of them. If you listen closely, you can hear his transfer value increase by $50,000.
Some other things happened too
1. Fabinho finally crashed. For the past few months, the former defensive liability has been the Union's most consistent defender. To a certain extent, this is a commentary on the rest of the Union's backline, but Fabinho has earned the title. He has been legitimately good. His success came as a result of his new defensive philosophy, which can be likened to how someone plays FIFA when they're really pissed off. Fabinho jumps passing lanes, flies into aerial duels, and hassles opponents mere milliseconds after they receive the ball. The objective is to deny the opponent from even receiving the ball. If that fails, Fabinho closes down swiftly and precisely. By and large, this has paid off for Fabinho, who's gone from oversight to mainstay. On Sunday, we saw what happens when all goes wrong. The first goal came from Fabinho's flank after he poked a ball away from one Fire player into the path of another. Chicago played into the space he vacated and the opener came moments later. His mistake on the second goal was more of a marking issue, as Patrick Nyarko simply ghosted in behind the left back.
2. Barnetta is still trying to find his place. When the Union announced the signing of Tranquillo Barnetta, most (myself included) assumed that he would slot it on the wing, where the Union have had their fair share of troubles this year. Shortly after his arrival; however, Jim Curtin revealed that he saw Barnetta as more of a central player. Since his debut, when Barnetta lined up next to Brian Carroll in the double pivot, we know the Swiss international has been one of the attacking midfield three. Where, exactly, has he been stationed in the attacking midfield? Of that we are less sure, but Curtin offered some help:
"We like for him to come inside. Chaco has a tendency to drift and they've had some good interchange. They're still trying to figure each other out, the best way to make it work. Barnetta's a guy who's versatile. He can play a couple of different spot. Again he's still in his preseason basically and playing three games in eight days is not easy. I thought he had some good moments tonight and again he has the ability to come inside and be comfortable on the ball. Sometimes it is a situation where we'll overload the middle. Sometimes when Chaco drifts out left to join him there's a numbers advantage there."
The relationship between Barnetta and Maidana, a pair of creative, attack-first-defend-second players who demand the ball at their feet, is still very much a work in progress. They are two very similar players in a system that can only have one player of their mold. Whether or not that can be overcome has still yet to be determined.