Look I know. I've put this off for far to long. Can you blame me? Who wants to relive last Tuesday night? The time has come to put some thoughts to html (otherwise Tweed may murder me). So join me after the break as we discuss what went right and what went wrong.
Pavel Pardo owned this game for the Fire. He was every where. A high effort, high quality performance. He showcased some speed as he chased down balls and got himself into defensive position. I was downright amazed at passion he was displaying on the field. He wanted to win this game. Anyone who continues to doubt Pavel after that final is a moron of the highest order. His play has been nothing short of amazing and he deserves more credit than he is receiving for the teams late season turn around. For seventy some minutes Pavel's great play (combined with an unconscious Sean Johnson) kept the Fire in the game. Unfortunately he was the only field player to have a high quality performance.
Before we get to the rest of the field players we need to talk about Sean Johnson. He was completely amazing in the highest profile game of his career. He did everything a goalkeeper can do to carry his team to victory. He did have one minor misstep flapping away at a ball that ended up hitting the post. Yet that one minor issue can be forgiven since he stopped everything else. Even on the first goal he made an amazing save that his defense was unable to clear allowing Montero to clean up the trash. If anyone wanted a single game to point at to show how awesome Johnson is RIGHT NOW this is the game. Can someone tell me why Bill Hamid is getting USMNT call ups while Sean isn't?
Ok the rest of the field players. Clearly several players were tired and trying to play through knocks suffered the game before. Dominic Oduro was game to try but didn't have his normal top gear of speed most of the evening. His effort was still there but his game was clearly hampered by the leg injury he suffered against Houston. Daniel Paladini was also tired. He put in a hard shift in Houston and it showed here as his second half was one he would rather sooner forget. He uncharacteristically was spraying passes wide of his mark. Paladini's season has been marked by solid, accurate passing combined with some decent footwork (with a side helping of yellow card earning physical play). During this game we got the effort but everything else was lacking.
Someone who surprisingly was a non factor was Patrick Nyarko. He looked tentative to run at his defenders and he appeared to wilt in the moment. A surprising performance from one of the Fire's more consistent players during the season. Patrick's performance was a big reason that the Fire offense was so anemic. Without Grazzini the Fire needed some offensive service from there creative players. Unfortunately they didn't receive it.
Without Nyarko's threat Marco Pappa was penned in most of the game by the Sounder defense. He tried but was unable to create due to the defensive attention that came his way most of the evening. No doubt about it the Sounder defense contained the Fire wings daring them to come up the middle without Grazzini. A solid game plan for a defense that is able to be exploited by an offensively balanced squad.
Defensively the Fire were fairly solid for a large part of the game. The turning point defensively came when Jalil Anibaba came on for Josep Mikulic. Mikulic appeared to have taken a knock and looked unable to continue. Unfortunately this left the more athletic but still raw Jalil in a tough position. Mikulic had been very good, recovering from his mistakes and displaying some serious technical ability in his tackles and ball dispossession skill. The one problem with Josep has been his inability to stay healthy. This is the second game in a row where he was forced to leave the game due to injury. To get back to Jalil he clearly did not play up to his ability. His youth and inexperience was an issue as the game wore on. The defense began to wilt (more than it was previously) when he entered the game.
As far as the full backs go I thought Gargan was full of fight and effort per normal. His lack of speed and positioning ability were evident at times but he never quit on any play. That is the secret to his success at Right Back. He never quits and always fights even when he gets beaten. Gonzalo Segares was decent if unspectacular. The Sounders best offensive success seemed to develop from Gargan's side more than Sega's side. I attribute this more to the Sounders finding a hole where Pavel Pardo happened not to be at that point in time than anything either fullback did.
One person we have yet to discuss is Logan Pause. I didn't notice him much during this game. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. Lately Logan has been getting forward and contributing a bit more offensively. Tonight that role fell more to Paladini and Pardo while Pause appeared to hang back a bit more than he has been lately. I'm completely flummoxed on how to rate his performance. Please feel free to chime in and let me know what you think about Logan's play.
Full credit to the Sounders offensive game plan. Once they were able to control possession (somewhere late in the first half) they continued to probe for the defensive weak points in the Fire's defense. They were able to find them with relative ease. If it wasn't for Sean Johnson's terrific game this could have been a massacre. From the Fire's perspective their lack of ability to control the ball offensively contributed to the defensive woes. This is a team that has begun to rely on the abilities of Sebastian Grazzini to help control the ball and give the defense time to reset itself. Without his presence it was rather unsurprising that the Fire ran into the difficulties that they did. It was just to big a hill for such a young team to climb. at this point in their development.
In terms of coaching I thought Klopas was fine in his substitutions. I would have rather seen Orr Barouch for Oduro when it was clear Dom didn't have his speed. Yet I can understand the difficulty in removing one of the hotter strikers in the league from your most important game of the year. Other than that I don't have much criticism for Frank's approach to this game. His hands were tied due to the Grazzini injury. You could make the argument that a more experienced coach would have come up with a better game plan. I'm not sure that the Fire currently have that sort of depth to do anything creative to cover for an injury of that magnitude.
This was a very sad night for us all. Yet the experience of this USOC run should be instrumental in building towards next season for this rather young team. One very important factor for next season is the continued presence of Pavel Pardo. If Pardo is not back for next season than something is incredibly wrong with ownership. It is a signing that is going to come down to money. If ownership continues in its desire to expand its Latino fan base Pavel Pardo should be resigned. He is that good and (from what I hear) has been instrumental in helping the younger players on the team develop.
I'll see you all at the next home game.