Alright, so for obvious reasons, the first thing I should probably address is Marco Pappa. He had a pretty good game didn't he? The only way his assist on Saturday could have been any sweeter is if he would have also given Roger Torres a wedgie as he passed the ball between his legs.
On top of Pappa's assist, I was okay with the shot from distance he took in the first half. It was a good decision. Typically, Pappa's long range missiles seem to be last ditch options because he has run out of space. This time Pappa had plenty of space with a clear path on goal and an opportunity to catch McMath off guard. It was a good decision, but the execution wasn't there. With as much space and time as he had, he should have at least put that shot on frame. Here is how Pappa's passing was tracked in the first half:
For the first half, Pappa played his position and kept space between himself and Grazzini. Unfortunately, in the second half, Pappa went back to his wandering ways. He was very active in moving the ball but it didn't contribute a whole lot. He had a nice shot in the second half, but the opportunity was mostly there because he was out of position. I say mostly, because Pappa did use some fancy footwork to create space for the shot, but he wouldn't have picked up the rebound at the top of the 18 if he wasn't where he was. Here's Pappa in the second half:
Due to Pappa's first half performance, this is an improvement from last week, and it has me feeling a bit more positive towards him. Still, one good performance does not erase the past year of fairly uninspiring play. If this is the start of a trend, I will gladly eat my words.
The assist was nice, but Pappa rarely attempts crosses like that, and I doubt this is something that he's going to incorporate into his game. If he did, I would have no complaints. I feel like the team as a whole needs to attempt more crosses into the box. Our attack is built primarily on counter attacking or catching Oduro on an overlapping run into the box. This makes the Fire fairly one dimensional. Also, this sort of offense doesn't work as well when the team is already in the attacking third where Oduro's breakaway speed is less of an advantage because there's less space to work with. Oduro has shown over the later half of the 2011 season, and in the first two games of this season, that he has matured as striker and no longer needs to rely on speed.
"As to whether I'm working on my headers or not, I believe once the ball gets there, I will use any part of my body to score, as long as it's not my hand," said a cheerful Oduro.
Grazzini has been the focal point of defensive game plans for Fire opponents. He has a dangerous shot from the top of the 18, and is even better at finding ways to get the ball to Oduro. If Pappa and Pause can move down the flanks and provide some service, it makes it more difficult for the defense to isolate Grazzini.
Changes Going Forward
The Chicago Fire were able to make some adjustments in 2011 to help the team make a strong finish. We have retained a majority of the key pieces from last year. Tweed pointed out earlier this week that there is some correlation between retaining players and winning. This correlation doesn't really surprise me. Soccer is a sport that is heavily based on teamwork and bringing in one star player does not suddenly make a team a title contender. Right now, the Fire have something good going, but the current starting XI is not going to be enough to take this team to the next level.
I've already mentioned Marco Pappa as a possible casualty to change. The other man in the line up who could face a benching is Logan Pause. In Montreal, Logan did a pretty good job pushing the ball up field by Logan Pause standards, but this past week he went back to playing like a conservative holding midfielder making back passes. Here is all of Logan's passing for the entire game:
The great thing about Logan is that he's a smart player. He's not the team captain for arbitrary reasons. There were times during last week's game where Logan would fill in for Pardo whenever Pardo would advance further up the pitch. One example of this was a moment in the second half around the 60th minute mark where a ball was cleared out of Philly's half and was going to drop into some space between the midfield and the back line. There were a couple of Union players in the area and they started to move down field for a possible counter attack. Luckily, Pause was already lying deep in the midfield and was able to track back in time to get the ball and advert a dangerous situation. It subtle things like this that make Logan an asset.
As nice as it is to have a player like Logan on the pitch doing those sort of things, it doesn't make up for the lack of involvement in the offense. Pause plays in a winger/left midfield position and can't continue to spend 90 minutes playing like a holding midfielder. If Marco Pappa is suddenly experiencing a rebirth, then Pause could find himself on the bench with the occasional start to give old man Pardo a rest.
To round this out, here are a few possible changes I could see happening:
-The obvious one: Rafael Robayo either replaces Marco Pappa or Logan Pause. There are high expectations for Robayo. If he looks good in practice and puts in some quality minutes in games off the bench as a sub, he could easily find himself in a starting role.
-Here's an idea: Pappa doesn't improve, and Pause continues his conservative play. I could see Robayo taking the place of one, and Patrick Nyarko taking the place of the other. Nyarko was moved to play up top with Oduro because we needed to make room for Grazzini and Pardo at the end of last year, but he was too good to bench. He has shown some improvement playing the forward position, but he plays better from the midfield.
-Who takes Nyarko's place? As good as Puppo has been off the bench, I would still like to see him as a super sub who could add a spark late in games. Orr Barrouch, however, showed a lot of promise last and deserves a chance to get a few starts on this team. The front office must like him since they did purchase his rights from UANL. Orr might also pair up better with Oduro since his game is not built around speed; he could be an off pace guy. Also, he's the only player on this team over 6 feet tall and is not a goalie or defender. I brought up crossing a lot earlier in this post, and I understand that the Fire are not the tallest team in the league. Height is not a necessity for scoring off crosses, but it helps.