What in Hristo Stoichkov is going on around here? So the Fire walk in to Salt Lake City and punk the uh Royals (?) at their once impenetrable fortress. Against their first choice eleven even. That happened without the midfield's security blanket Sebastian Grazzini. Wait a second do we actually have a good squad now that can win anywhere? Certainly seems that way.
Things got crackalacking early as the Fire were playing evenly with a RSL side out for a win. An early chance for Saborio should/could have been called offsides but Johnson appeared to have everything covered. Then as the clock showed 9:00 on it Marco Pappa buries a shot with his RIGHT FOOT past a diving Nick Rimando into the back of the net. Shocking display of offensive mojo that has been absent from Marco's game for a very long time. Goal assisted by Paladini. I can't state this strongly enough, Marco beat Rimando to his left hand side. Watch Rimando highlight reels and tell me how many times he makes incredible saves diving to his left. This was impressive from the Guatemalan.
So while many of us were still talking about the goal or trying to tweet about the damn thing Kyle Beckerman did something rather rash. He headbutts Paladini, in clear site of the referee after a little kick to the back of his ankle. Straight red and the dreadlocked one's night is over. Bonus time! On his way out we get a bit of a skirmish. This was great. Fire players were in his face. Beckerman drops a few pleasantries (of the FU variety) towards Dom Oduro. Pavel Pardo looks ready to eat the occasional US Nat for dinner, Mikulic is forced to restrain the old man. Epic. Beckerman reveals some hilariously bad tattoos on his abdomen. Everything about this was awesome from the Fire fan perspective.
Five minutes later Dan Gargan shows Fabian Espindola (and any Fire fan who hadn't been impressed by Dan yet) how he has earned his starting spot. By making life as difficult as possible for the opposition. This time RSL's designated antagonist, the aforementioned Espindola, tries to get under Gargan's skin. That backfires as both earn yellows. This was a feisty battle for the rest of the half. Dan Gargan put in quite the scrappy shift last year.
The Fire continue to push with their man advantage but almost mess the whole thing up with a horrible offside trap attempt by Mikulic. Gibbs shows why he is the best central defender on the team as he hustles back and helps to force Soborio's drive wide. Well done by Gibbs. Gibbs continues to show why he is so important.
36th minute. Pavel Pardo schools the entire RSL midfield as he takes the ball makes a terrific turn leaving his defender in his 35 year old Mexican wake. He dribbles the ball into acres of space and then makes a fantastic pass to Marco Pappa who promptly hammers it home with his left foot for his second goal of the evening. Who needs Grazzini when you've got this old dude getting things done on a Wednesday night road game (I kid but you get the point)?
Both teams have their chances in the next few minutes. Mikulic makes a very nice defensive play to shut down a great opportunity for RSL. Dom Oduro has his shot saved by Rimando. After this things remain relatively calm going into half.
Second half remains wide open. The Fire continue to press the attack and RSL tries to counter. Both teams manage to get a few shots on goal that bother neither keeper. The Fire clearly have the better of the second half but some tired legs start to show up around the 69th minute as Mikulic goes down for a bit. Anibaba comes on as a substitution and this was a wise move. Frank learned from last week and used his defensive depth to his advantage. Fresh defensive legs was the right call up 2-0.
75th minute. This goal is all Marco Pappa. He drives the ball down the right win and then passes it around his defender, goes shoulder to shoulder with Shuller and wins. Gets a free run into the box and then hits a patented bending ball with his left foot.
83rd minute. Logan Pause gets a shot off on goal. Then he grins. Yes Logan shooting at the goal is fun!
The game is pretty much over at this point. RSL is listless and looks like they want nothing more than to get into the locker room and take the berating that is forthcoming. The Ref agrees and blows the whistle at the 90th minute. No stoppage time for us tonight.
So how did this happen:
The key to this win was the central midfield play of Pavel Pardo and Daniel Paladini. Both players were instrumental all night long. Helping to facilitate and create while shutting down any attempt RSL made at trying to build through the center of the pitch. This is the first time any central midfield pairing has been successful without Seba Grazzini in it. That is huge in and of itself. Hopefully Paladini unlocked his "I'm Seba's backup" achievement with his performance tonight.
Obviously Marco Pappa was equally as instrumental as he finally found his offensive mojo. Right foot, left foot, assisted, unassisted didn't matter tonight as he was game for everything all night long. Continued his hard work defensively as well. Marco is putting it together and frankly it couldn't come at a better time. Dear Sigi you now have to game plan for #16.
Other Thoughts: I know the split broadcast thing saves teams money but I NEVER WANT TO LISTEN TO BRIAN DUNSETH EVER AGAIN ON A FIRE BROADCAST. Please value your brand enough to buy an extra plane ticket. Thanks. More halftime interviews with Pavel Pardo please. That is an epic Spanish/German accent that man has. We need more of it. Plus I enjoyed the content of his words as well. If you played for the Fire and your last name starts with a P and then is followed by an A you had a good night. This team is now full of fighting spirit. You do remember last year's team that wouldn't have thrown down if someone even punched them in the face? The current version of the Fire won't lay down like that. That is a very positive development from the Klopas regime. The back four played well together tonight outside of the one horrific offside trap attempted by Josip. Mikulic is still game rusty but he did manage to be physical and make key stops. Logan Pause is really embracing his role going forward. He looks like a player who is having fun with a new challenge. Glad to see the captain getting involved on both ends of the field. This game was awesome. THIS was the best performance of the year so far. Complete performance in all sectors of the game.