By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. - It was a game for the ages, a game that ages head coaches quite rapidly, and reminds how beautifully crazy this game can be.
The Chicago Fire walked out of Red Bull Arena on Saturday night with a wild, 5-4 victory over the New York Red Bulls in an exciting and entertaining encounter that had just about a little of everything from plethora of goals, to controversial goals, to dramatic, game-saving saves that denied goals.
For the first time in league history, players from both teams finished with hat-trick.
Rookie Harrison Shipp had his in the opening 58 minutes as the Fire surged to a 5-2 lead as he scored his first three goals of the season.
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Bradley Wright-Phillips found the back of the net three times for the hosts, giving him a league-best nine goals for the season and eight in his last four games. The Englishman almost equalized five minutes into stoppage time with a spectacular bicycle kick but goalkeeper Sean Johnson produced a marvelous save.
When asked if thought there were any positives from the game, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke replied, "Yes, I am going to go and have a vodka. That is a big positive."
Petke certainly was not very happy with the play of his team, which fell to 3-3-5 with 14 points, as Chicago (nine points) improved to 1-2-6.
"I think the turning point of the game was when the whistle blew," he said. "I didn't see the urgency. ... It wasn't good enough. And let me be clear when I say it wasn't good enough, it starts with me."
The Fire was content to leave the stadium with three points for the first time this season.
"I'm honestly just happy to get the first win for this team," Shipp said. "Over the past four or five games or so, we've had some heart-breaking ties and losses giving up late goals, especially last week. So I think just hanging on for the win."
Added Quincy Amarikwa: “It’s a pretty big relief.”
The 23,776 who attended the match should have realized that this was going to be a special match early on Shipp's first goal in the fourth minute. Shipp put in Greg Cochrane feed in which Mike Magee appeared to be offside on the play, standing right in front of goalkeeper Luis Robles. Linesman Brian Poeschel put his flag up to signify offside, but put it down. Referee Kevin Stott awarded the goal.
The Red Bulls were furious.
When asked about the play by reporters afterwards, Petke replied, "Do i want to get fined? I am posing a question to myself. Do I want to absolutely bury them and get a big fine, or do I want to smile and say, 'They have a hard job to do.'
"I guess what I say is, when I look at the play, and the ball trickles, a slow roller across the box and it beats Luis to the far post, my six-year-old son upstairs will tell me, 'Daddy, he didn't react to that because someone was standing right there.'
"Again, they have hard decisions to make, I guess. To me, if was hired as a referee and I refereed tonight's game, I would have called it an offside. He chose not to call it an offside. So, we live with it."
And die with it as well.
When he asked the fourth official about the play, Petke did not receive an answer he would have liked to have heard.
"I've asked many questions to fourth officials in my short time as a head coach," he said. "And to put quite honest with you, 90 percent of the answers I get back I don't understand. This happened to be one of them."
Only two minutes later in the sixth minute, the hosts bounced back and equalized on Tim Cahill's from six yards and the scoring onslaught was on. Wright-Phillips lifted New York into a 2-1 lead in the 39th minute, converting a left-wing cross from Thierry Henry.
Instead of taking the game to the Fire in the second half, the Red Bulls stumbled early and paid for it dearly. First, Amarikwa knotted things up in the 49th minute, as he beat Kosuke Kimura and headed in a Jeff Larentowicz feed from six yards. Then it became the Shipp show again. Shipp put one into the lower left corner from 12 yards before he beat Kimura on the left side and slotted the ball into the lower right corner for a stunning 4-2 lead.
“We came in at half time and knew we were sitting in too much,” Amarikwa said. “We were giving New York too much respect to play and we know we can score goals. So, we said in the second half we’re just going to high press. What do we have to lose? And it really caught them off guard.”
Before the Red Bulls could catch their collecting breaths, Patrick Nyarko lofted what appeared to be a 20-yard fross from the right flank into the upper left corner past Robles for a 5-2 advantage.
"We gave away some soft goals," Wright-Phillips said.
Finally out of their funk, the Red Bulls just about laid siege to the Chicago goal for the final 20 minutes and they came close to equalizing.
Wright-Phillips pulled them within 5-3 off a Lloyd Sam feed in the 67th before nailing a 78th-minute penalty kick to cut the margin to 5-4 after Henry was taken down in the area. It was Wright-Phillips' second hat-trick of the season.
"I'm thanful for the boys," Wright-Phillips said. "They want to to get my goals but today's not really a day I [want to] talk about goals."