This game made me angry. I left feeling like the whole evening was an exercise in futility. I know the Fire earned a point against a very good team. They left 2 points out on that field for the taking. No matter what any stupid MLS based writer tells you, early wins do matter. All the good teams win early, survive the summer, and then reassert themselves before the playoffs. Early points mean you don't have to dig yourself out of a giant hole (hi there 2011 Fire season). So when you've got a chance at a huge home win, grabbing it is more than advisable.
The first half was a prime example of what the Fire can do when they are playing well. Ball movement and control were excellent for the first 25 minutes. Dom Oduro's free header in the first few minutes of the game was a golden chance that needed to be buried but instead crashed hard against the cross bar. The Fire owned the first 25 minutes of this game and should have scored a goal. Real Salt Lake fought back by controlling a large chunk of the next 20 minutes. They pushed forward and created a few dangerous chances of their own. A weird deflection almost cost the Fire a goal but the ball blazed wide.
A fun first half where the Fire created the best chance and had a few other opportunities to score but were unable to make the final pass. RSL were spry and up for the challenge but didn't appear to be nearly as sharp as Chicago.
Second half starts and RSL have clearly made a tactical change. They are barreling down the field in the first 5 minutes and look very threatening. From my vantage point behind the goal it appeared as if Dan Gargan was having issues dealing with a formation change titling RSL's offensive players towards his side of the field. Klopas responded immediately by subbing in Jalil Anibaba. Jalil's speed and size helped calm that Fire defense and defuse the advantage gained by RSL's tactical change.
RSL was trying anything to switch play to their wings as getting through the middle wasn't working. Logan Pause was a destructive force in the midfield this evening. Pause was breaking up plays, making nice passes and helping to neutralize the normally very influential Kyle Beckerman. Pavel Pardo was also instrumental in helping own the defensive half of the midfield thus neutralizing the normally very potent RSL build from the central of the field.
After this I felt like the Fire owned much of the second half. They did not create nearly as good of a chance as they had in the first half as the final pass to unlock the stout RSL defense was missing. This was incredibly frustrating to watch. This wasn't a full strength RSL. They looked very beatable as the second half wore on. Yet the Fire were incapable of taking advantage of this. After the Anibaba sub Federico Puppo came on with about 25 minutes left to play for Patrick Nyarko.
Normally I have no issue with this sort of change. Puppo is a player who makes terrific runs around the goal creating space for players behind him. Unfortunately in tonight's game, Oduro was dropped back into the midfield while Puppo worked alone up top. A mystifying tactical change. Puppo is not a player who holds up the ball well. He tries but it isn't his forte. His high quality runs towards goal were thus nullified as he had no one to play off of next to him. I get the idea that you want to give Dom more space to work with but if this is the case wouldn't the larger more target like figure of Orr Barouch be the better choice for this tonight? I felt the formation change hurt the push for goal more than anything else.
As the game wore on, Klopas used his final substitution with 15 minutes left bringing on Rafa Robayo for Pause. Pause rarely comes off the field. In what was, I felt, his best performance of the season getting subbed off at this juncture was incredibly odd. I like Robayo. He has proved to be incredibly useful as late game substitution. I hope he earns a start soon too, as I'd like to see what he can do now that he is starting to fit in. He was fairly decent in his spell tonight as he slotted in just fine in the middle of the field behind Grazzini. This just felt like the wrong guy got subbed out. I would have rather taken Pappa off the field than Pause. I know that is difficult considering Marco's recent form but due to Pause's stellar play during this game I felt that more chances could have been created this way.
Final whistle blows and we end up with everyone's favorite scoreline: 0-0 draw. Ugh. I'll take the point but at the end of the day I have some serious reservations about this game and how it was managed.
Other player thoughts: Gonzalo Segares was on point tonight. He was physical, got forward, hit a lot of good crosses and in general looked like a terrorizing madman from his customary left back position. Seriously this was old Sega and it was a sight to see. I hope this form continues.
Austin Berry continues to look like a complete steal. Composed under pressure, physical, and garnered a significant amount of attention from the RSL defense on set pieces. Another quality game from the youngster.
Seba Grazzini played the full 90 again. Put aside your doubts as he can clearly go the distance. He wasn't as influential as one would hope but he certainly was one of the main focal points of the Fire's stellar attack in the first half. He ably worked both sides of the field to receive the ball and was working noticeably better with Marco Pappa. Grazzini was letting Pappa make the inside run while he ran to the space near the wings providing some width to the field. A smart adjustment by the veteran to work with his younger, less adaptable counter part.
CJ Brown Ring of Fire ceremony: It was a very nice ceremony at halftime as Chris Armas inducted CJ into the Ring of Fire. CJ looked to be very appreciative of the honor and there was a nice video package. The only criticism I had of the event was that other available members of the Ring of Fire were not there on the field with CJ. Nowak did not have a game tonight and it would have been nice to see him there (I assume the Fire screwed this up by not asking him). Ring of Fire member Peter Wilt, who was IN ATTENDANCE, was not on the field. I saw Fire owner Andrew Hauptman talk to Wilt just prior to the on field ceremony. Yet no Peter on the field. Is our current owner that classless? What the hell is up with that Andrew Hauptman?
Final thoughts: My initial reaction to this game was very negative. After review it wasn't nearly as bad as I initially thought. I can't shake this feeling that 2 points were dropped here due to poor tactical changes. On the flip side is that the Fire would have lost this game last season. A small step forward is nice but it isn't where the Fire need to be.