Frank Klopas put out a starting lineup consisting largely of bench players. That lineup went out and got itself a key road draw while providing rest for normal starters going into the US Open Cup final. As Tweed mentioned earlier this was a rather drab affair. Yet there are several things worth discussing. Join me after the break as I hammer away at Houston's negative tactics and actually give Mike Videira a compliment. Sort of.Dominic Kinnear's side used every dirty tactic in the book today. Diving, grabbing, kicking, and anything else that could slow down the Fire's attack was done. This should surprise nobody. Houston is one of the dirtiest teams in the league. Dom Kinnear has continually used these negative tactics since Stuart Holden has left the squad. Even the more successful Houston squads were a physical outfit that won many free kicks in the midfield due to the excellent embellishment skills of Brian Ching. With limited creative (hi Brad Davis) ability, Houston has continuously used the combination of the Houston heat and overly physical play to wear teams out to achieve results at home. It has been an effective strategy. Kudos to Kinnear for finding a way to win with substandard talent at home. On the road this strategy has been a complete failure but that is to be expected. Houston is trying to stay competitive while rebuilding their strike force and midfield. What should be a bit of surprise is that the referee for today's contest, Edvin Jurisevic, had a bad outing. He continually let Houston foul all over the place and was also inconsistent in several of his calls. I find Jurisevic to be one of the better MLS referees out there but this was not one of his better days. Thus this was an ugly game to watch.
To be fair it was never going to be pretty. Chicago was always going to run out a side filled with less talented but high effort players (Chaves, Videira, Bone,) for today's game. It was destined to be a chippy affair. Things started off well for the Fire. They were controlling possession and getting forward with the ball. Starting Videira at Right Back eliminated the problem of having him turn the ball over continuously in the midfield, instead he had a sideline to just dump the ball out for throw ins. Bone and Paladini have some proven success working together and while they didn't recreate the magic of the early season Toronto game they were still solid in pairing. Baggio Husidic is what he is. He was OK but again lacked effort and imagination for much of the game. To his credit he did provide when needed. Still this was a positive start from the patchwork quilt sown together by Klopas.
Things started to go awry as Houston started to win set pieces. Houston seemingly can only score from the set piece. To give them free kicks and corners is to ask for problems. And problems were received. Jalil Anibaba can jump. Unfortunately for him he jumped too high and the ball deflected off his chest towards the goal where Colin Clarke was hanging out and he put the ball in the back of the net. This goal could have been prevented by a solid clearance from Anibaba. He had this issue on two set pieces tonight. He is able to get high above his man and prevent that individual from clearly the ball. Unfortunately he was unable, in both instances, to direct the ball in a meaningful manner. Anibaba has been impressive at center back this season. This is clearly an area he needs to improve in as his potential to shut down set pieces is immense due to his incredible athletic ability.
A few minutes later Carlos Costly missed a sitter as he somehow managed to put the ball over the bar while being three yards away from goal. Strangely the Houston fans didn't boo him for that. What? Is it too much to ask for fans to be consistent with their reactions to certain plays? Oh it is? I'm sorry.
The Fire managed to strike back in the 43rd minute. The Fire midfield moved the ball around a bit. Husidic to Chaves back to Husidic who then puts a very nice through ball in the direction of Dominic Oduro. Oduro manages to get on the end of it and then beat his man with ease. He then expertly finishes the ball with the outside of his right foot easily beating Tally Hall. Dom then gets to break out the "shut up I just scored on your stupid team you bunch of jerk faces" celebration as the fans chant an unkind word towards Dom in Spanish. This celebration made my night. Dom's 12th goal of the year comes on the same field that he was booed off of the last time he was on it for missing a sitter.
The rest of this game was a bunch of Houston clutching and grabbing. The Fire made went for the win by inserting Nyarko, Pardo and Pappa as late second half substitutions. Both teams had a couple of missed opportunities. Notably for Houston Calen Carr (in fashionable head gear) decided to pass instead of shoot when he was free in on goal. His pass was off and the danger was averted. The Fire managed to get the ball into the box at the feet of Pappa but nothing came of it. An ugly second half of football to watch. Geoff Cameron has earned my eternal hatred from this game. He grabbed and whined and it was just an ugly sight. He also looks like a player who desperately wants to be in an Axe commercial. Not a good look.
The final whistle blew and I was thankful. The Fire escaped Houston with 1 point, an acceptable result. They also apparently managed to get out of their without any serious injuries (Dom looked to be OK at the end of the game). Last night's results were a mixed bag. NY drew in the final minutes against hapless TFC so they are still only 3 points ahead of the Fire. Colorado won against Dallas essentially clinching their playoff spot. More importantly Columbus sit 4 points in front of the Fire. It will be easier to catch Columbus as the Fire get to play them the final game of the season at Toyota Park. A key game goes down today as DC faces Columbus at 3 PM available on Match Day Live (seriously get a Roku box and subscribe to MDL, the feeds are of excellent quality and it will look good on your HD tv).
Other thoughts: Diego Chaves is a mess up front right now. He doesn't make decisive runs into the box anymore. He prefers to sit back, like an attacking midfielder, looking to get the ball at his feet and create. There were several times late in the game where a run from Chaves would have created attacking opportunities for him and the player with the ball. Very frustrating as Chaves possesses the talent to do this. Hopefully Diego will get this straightened out. Frank Klopas played his substitutions to perfection today. He sent the message that the regular season was still in play for this team yet managed to give key players rest. By inserting three of his bigger guns in the second half it was clear that he was going for the win. That attitude is really starting to rub off on this team. It is clear that they believe every game is winnable. Full credit to Klopas for this. Mike Videira was not horrible at Right Back tonight. I know this is the worst comment possible to give to a player but he managed his spot start well everything considered. Corben Bone wasn't very effective. Really unfortunate as I was hoping for him to play well like he did with his spell earlier this season. Logan Pause was again solid going forward. Not as good as Wednesday but still better than I would have expected considering the lack of offensive options around him for most of the game.
We should have some USOC preview articles up around these parts in the next few days. Keep a look out for them. I'll be traveling to Seattle. I hope to see all of you there.