The Chicago Fire tied Sporting Kansas City 0-0. I've run out of phrases that evoke the idea of something being a repeating record, the same story, or a roaring rerun. The puns that the Fire are the greatest artists since Michelangelo thanks to all of their drawing are getting old too. For a recap, the highlights, the good, the bad, the ugly and why I don't think Bratislav Ristic's tackle merited a penalty are after the break
Sean Johnson and the Chicago Fire defense have played over 200 consecutive minutes of shutout soccer since Chris Wondolowski scored on a header in the 76th minute of the San Jose Earthquakes match on May 28th. What once looked like a gaping hole that could plague Chicago's entire 2011 season has turned into a potential positive. Dare I suggest it might even be transitioning into a strength? Gonzalo Segares looks like he is back to being the player we remember pre-2010 and prior to his sampling of Cyprus club football. Yamith Cuesta improves with every game at CB. In his 8 straight starts, the Fire have given up just 8 goals. Cory Gibbs is working on 5 consecutive starts but has played in 11 of the 13 MLS regular season games. Early favorite to anchor the defense Josip Mikulic continues to be out with a clavicle fracture although I should note he was upgraded from OUT to DOUBTFUL in Tuesday's MLS Injury Report. When Mikulic returns to health, he'll likely have to fight to get back into the starting lineup. The Gibbs/Cuesta pairing is working well at the moment.
Logan Pause looks like he is attacking more under Frank Klopas. I think this is a positive. Gaston Puerari sent a long ball to Dominic Oduro in the 67th minute of play. Oduro tried to chip the ball over SKC's goaltender Jimmy Nielsen so Nielsen naturally leaped up to block the ball with his hand... the only problem was he was outside of the box. Nielsen was devastated when he realized what he had just done and received a straight red. Daniel Paladini caught replacement SKC goalie Eric Kronberg off guard in the 80th minute when he struck an accurate shot from about 25 yards out. Paladini's pin-point accuracy from distance combined with his box to box play continue to make him a perfect fit for a set back/defensive midfielder. Bratislav Ristic had a very good cross to Cristian Nazarit in the 31st minute of play. Nazarit's consequent header forced Nielsen to make a diving save.
Orr Barouch had a phenomenal chance to score when Paladini's 80th minute shot rebounded off SKC's goalie right onto the Fire supersub's feet. Instead of scoring Barouch clanked the top crossbar and the ball went down to miss the goal line. Overall the Fire were up a man for over 30 minutes (counting the 9 minutes, yes 9 MINUTES of stoppage time) against SKC's backup goalie and couldn't score a goal. That's not positive. It's quite depressing given the rest of the season. KC had multiple strong shots in the first 30 minutes of the game. Teal Bunbury and Graham Zsui especially stuck out with some make-you-get-out-of-your-seat-missile-launches. The Chicago defense didn't look good when that happened but they knew what they were doing... right?
After Jimmy Nielsen was shown the metaphorical door in the 67th minute, the Fire had a golden free kick opportunity just outside the box. Instead of accomplishing anything positive, Crisitan Nazarit sent a low shot right at SKC's defensive wall. In the words of the not very funny but oddly hypnotic Saturday Night Live sketch, "What's up with that?". Woo wee, that was a wasted opportunity. Daniel Paladini should be taking those kind of chances. Paladini should be taking those chances even when Marco Pappa returns. End of story. Also what was up with the long ball play late in the game? I don't know if the team was fatigued but the ball needs to be played on the ground when you have a man advantage. Kicking the ball up field greatly benefits the short handed team as it improves their chances of getting their feet on the ball and opens more room for a counter attack. Yamith Cuesta appeared to be the biggest culprit but there is ample criticism to spread around to other members on the team. Klopas should have been screaming from the sideline to play the ball on the ground. I certainly hope he wasn't encouraging this method of attack.
In the 86th minute of play, Kansas City moved the ball up with a goal kick, a header, and a quick flick into the box for Omar Bravo. Bravo had the ball in front of him when Bratislav Ristic went in for a bold challenge. Many people are crying bloody murder but if you watch the replays it's a close judgement call. Head referee Michael Kennedy was directly behind the play and had a good view to make the decision. My perspective after watching the replay from three different angles and a couple dozen times is that Ristic's tackle could have been called for a penalty but it is not an egregious error by Kennedy to have withheld blowing his whistle.
For starters, Ristic didn't tackle him from behind. Bravo had turned to the side already. Bravo had also slowed up and that is the moment Ristic went in after the ball. By the time Ristic goes in for his tackle, Bravo has already shifted his weight to his left leg. Bravo sees Ristic diving in and attempts to draw contact by flicking his right leg out. That's not a step movement. Ristic did not go after Bravo's leg, he went straight for the ball that Bravo left out wide in front of him. Ristic was very lucky not to be called for that because any kind of slide tackle in the box is a dangerous move. It's not something I would suggest Ristic try again but it isn't nearly the referee screw-up others are making of it.
I think Klopas said it best in his post-game comments, "For the second game in a row, we've had a clean sheet. When you do that, you always give yourself an opportunity to win. But in the final third, our ideas and our movement have to be better". For me that sums it up really well. The offense is not finding new avenues to success in Marco Pappa's absence and they will continue to miss him this Sunday against the Columbus Crew. Klopas needs to find some offensive answers otherwise people will be looking for an end to his interim head coaching days.
Highlights & Summaries
Chicago Fire 0 - 0 Sporting Kansas City
Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; Bratislav Ristic, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Dominic Oduro, Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause, Corben Bone (Patrick Nyarko 56'); Gaston Puerari (Diego Chaves 71'), Crisitan Nazarit (Orr Barouch 77')
Sporting KC: Jimmy Nielsen; Michael Harrington, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin; Chance Myers; Kei Kamara (CJ Sapong 59'), Luke Sassano, Davy Arnaud (Birahim Diop 85'), Graham Zusi; Omar Bravo, Teal Bunbury (Eric Kronberg 68')
SKC - Michael Harrington (Caution, reckless tackle) 21'
CHI - Gaston Puerari (Caution, Tactical Foul) 37'
CHI - Cristian Nazarit (Caution, Reckless Foul) 57'
SKC - Jimmy Nielsen (Ejection, Denied Goal Scoring Opportunity) 67'
SKC - Aurelien Collin (Caution, Tactical Foul) 98+'
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry, Brian Poeschel
4th Referee: Mark Declouet