Dispatch From a Man in the Stands: Fire vs. New England Revolution
As the afternoon passed, you could feel it. A heady vibe that smacked of faith rather than hope.
Faith, rather than hope, that they would dominate their opponent. Faith, rather than hope, that they would continue their climb to the top of the Eastern Conference. Faith, rather than hope, that the Chicago Fire Soccer Club would prevail over their bitter, yet struggling rivals on a cool summer’s night in Bridgeview.
But alas, the Men in Red once again kept the Fire faithful on the edge of their seats at Toyota Park – biting their nails as Chicago held on for a 2-1 victory on Saturday. And while a counterattacking Fire side created a plethora of scoring opportunities in a convincing display of their newfound offensive prowess (especially in the second half of play), should fans have expected that faith would completely trump hope? But hey, I’m not going to look a proverbial gift horse in the mouth. And I’ll relish the three points while I look for a good manicurist this week. Let’s see what On The Fire learned from last night…
Predict-o-meter: 3.5/8 = 44%
Like any blogger worth his salt, I made some predictions that primed readers’ Fire Pump in the last post. Let’s see how I did.
- 2-1 Fire victory? Check.
- Chris Rolfe goal? Check.
- Jay Heaps proved true to form, as the Revs head coach’s temperament indeed progressed from concerned, to pouty/whiny, and then culminated in futile fury. Check.
- Patrick Nyarko goal? No, but as you will see below on a nifty OPTA chalkboard, Pat was dangerous all night and provided the assist on Sherjill MacDonald’s back-of-the-net header. Half check.
- Michael Videira at holding midfield for the injured Logan Pause? No. Daniel Paladini got the start in place of the Fire Captain. More about his performance to follow. Fail.
- Paladini played the full ninety minutes and Klopas did not resort to a tactical shift. Fail.
- The Fire did not have to come back from a one goal goal deficit to win the match. Fail.
- Jerry Bengston did not score for New England. Fail.
Despite all of the congratulatory post-match tweets (including one from yours truly – you know, for moral support) Daniel Paladini didn’t look too good in the first half of play. The Fire’s replacement holding midfielder was extremely tentative and stiff. During the first twenty minutes, Paladini actually appeared to be afraid of the ball. Seriously, I sat at the halfline and kept a close eye on him. The Revs were able to keep possession in the midfield partly because Paladini waited for them to come to him. He didn’t attack the ball and clean things up effectively as New England continually penetrated the final third. And although he worked hard and looked much better in the second half while tightening things up, I’m not yet convinced that Paladini’s the answer for the vacancy caused by the absence of Pause. And while we’re on the subject, Let’s salute The General Pavel Pardo for holding sh*t down. There were points in the first half where I saw Pavel literally look through Paladini as if Daniel wasn’t even there. During the first half especially, Pavel could sense that the new guy was a liability. When he got his chance in the 79th minute, I think that Michael Videira looked sharper more comfortable on the pitch than Paladini.
As previously mentioned, and to the chagrin of many of us out here in blogworld, Frank Klopas did not go with a more attack-minded formation. But nevertheless, the match was literally inches away from being 4-1. The Fire kept the Revs on their heels from the 40th-80th minutes, but just couldn’t find the back of the net after numerous quality chances. Klopas doesn’t strike me as a risk-taker, so he’ll probably stick with the 4-5-1 unless things clearly go wrong. But, there’s enough talent and depth on the squad now that merits a change. And as I said before, I’m not 100% sold on Paladini. Why not give Videira or Alex a shot at holding mid, or perhaps shift Flaco back and start Pappa? With all of the offensive firepower now at Klopas’s disposal, the 4-5-1 feels too conservative. But that said, the Men in Red put significant pressure on New England for long stretches and looked dangerous on the counterattack.
True to form, it took Jay Heaps 67 minutes to lose his composure. Heaps was relatively quiet during the first half, spending much of his time on the bench. But after the 67th, he progressively went from one hand on a hip, to two hands on hips, to stalking the sideline, to sitting on the floor, back to stalking the sideline, to lots of arm waving, then a hop over the digi board combined with a quick hop back over and a follow-up hand bang on it, more arm waving, and then Mr. Intensity finished off his night with a not too cordial visit to to the refs after time expired. Heaps castigated them as he shook their hands – this despite the fact that THEY were the only reason his club had a chance to get a point out of the match. Those five minutes of stoppage time were a gift for Heaps and his lowly Revs. The coach later described the latest edition of his team’s seven-match winless streak as “gut-wrenching”. Hey Heaps – better stock up on the Maalox son.
What about those promised New England tactical changes that were to spark the Revs heretofore impotent attack? Well, the first 2o minutes indicated that they appeared to work. The visitors were disciplined, held their shape, and kept 55% of first half possession. But after Nyarko hooked up with Mackie in the 25th, New England didn’t truly threaten the opposing goal for another 55-60 minutes. The Fire had so many chances in the second half. And as I said before, this match could have easily been 4-1. Veteran keeper Matt Reis, more than bad luck, was the reason why the Revs still had a shot to take a point home with them after the 80th minute. That said, New England should see improvement if Heaps starts Bengston and Feilhaber and keeps Nyugen and Brettschneider on the bench. And speaking of Jerry Bengston, he came on in the second half and was basically a non-factor. Future USMNT centerback Austin Berry shut down and smothered the Honduran international striker.
Earlier in the week, On the Fire‘s Stephen Mangat astutely pointed out in his “Know Your Enemy” post that Revs defender AJ Soares’s foul-prone play would hurt his team. Sure enough, the Soar play (sorry folks, but you’ll have to humor me. Just call me “Bad Pun”.) began early on as Chris Rolfe drew a foul from the New England defender in the box, which led to #18′s PK goal and an early lead for the Fire. Cool Man Rolfe would subsequently run circles around AJ for the duration of the match. The New England defender just couldn’t keep track of Chicago’s spinmaster – the crafty, darting trequartista.
Fun With Chalkboards
Fire Attacking Four Shred Revs
Perhaps the most encouraging sign here is Patrick Nyarko’s complete domination of the right side. He was brilliant and looked fresh after some well-deserved rest during the previous two weeks.
Pavel Pardo’s offensive threat hindered by Pause injury
Set pieces aside, look at the General’s progression backward toward his own goal over the past three matches:
With Captain Pause in there, Pavel had a lot of movement and possession in the attacking half vs. Toronto.
At Philly, Pavel had some presence in attack, but with one half of play without Pause he had to track back.
Again, corners and free kicks aside, Pavel had only two touches in the final third at home vs. the Revs. This marks a clear difference from two weeks prior and is a sign that confidence is lacking in Pause’s replacement.
- Despite losing the possession battle (41% to the Revs’ 58%), the Fire created a lot of scoring chances: 22 attempts on goal to New England’s 7.
- The Fire’s counterattacking pressure led to numerous set pieces: 11 corner kicks to New England’s 2.
- NBC Chicago needs to get their sh*t straight. Contrary to what Fire TV announcers Dan Kelly and Evan Whitfield say, Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry are not the “Odd Couple”. Rather, as eloquently dubbed by Fire writer Ruben Tisch, they are the “A-Team”! With the exception of a momentary lapse of positioning that led to New England’s only goal, time after time the two centerbacks snuffed out the Revs’ attack. And again and again they won headers in and near the box and kept danger away from keeper Sean Johnson. Furthermore, both defenders (especially Friedrich) continued to look dangerous on set pieces.
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jalil Anibaba is not a fullback. He’s a great athlete. He’s strong and has decent pace. But the man has no ball skills and lacks the touch that a right back needs while pushing forward and positioning himself to cross and serve the ball into the box. He was also partly responsible for the New England goal, as he found himself stretched far up the field and was slow to get back into position after a long ball in to Saer Sene, who had plenty of time and space to cross one in while the Fire backline failed to hold its shape. Going forward, Dan Gargan should be starting at right fullback, or perhaps be given a shot at the holding mid position.
- Sherjill MacDonald’s awesome pre-match tweet was the mojo behind his badly sought after first MLS goal:
- Someone should hang a “no diving” sign in Revs’ fullback Kevin Alston’s locker. Rumor has it he’s looking for an Oscar nomination.
- Dominic Oduro still can’t finish. Perhaps he should lay off the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee? Oh Dom.
- Referee Sorin Stoica was unimpressive. Crybaby Jay Heaps goaded him into cautioning Sean Johnson for unsportsmanlike conduct for taking too much time on a free kick as time wound down in the second half. Stoica showed SeanJ the yellow despite the fact that he had already started his run up to the kick. Then the Romanian nearly cost the Fire two points after rewarding the Revs with five minutes plus of stoppage time. Needless to say, Stoica’s decision to unnecessarily extend play lit up the Tweet-o-sphere – and it wasn’t pretty.
- Chairman Joel Biden reported that some A-HOLES broke into the Section 8 Supporters Club ambulance/party mobile and ripped out the keg and CO2 system. Thankfully, the CO2 system was recovered. Biden: “Whoever broke into the Fire FANbulance is a scumbag with no class. Fire family should stick together. Tradition. HONOR. Passion.” On The Fire couldn’t agree more. We salute the chairman and hope he installs some pro locks on that fine vehicle.
A true test for the Fire looms near, as the Men in Red travel to RFK Stadium to take on D.C. United this Wednesday night. A draw will suffice, but a second consecutive road victory for Chicago will send a message to United (and the rest of the Eastern Conference) that the Fire are contenders, not pretenders, and push D-Ro and the boys further down the table in what is shaping up to be a fiercely tight playoff race.
So loyal readers, tune in on Monday or Tuesdays for “Know Your Enemy: D.C. United”. Stephen will treat you right. Merci!