On the NBC 5 Chicago broadcast yesterday, they mentioned that referee Allen Chapman was officiating just his 2nd MLS Regular Season match. Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas might get a pass on not including Chapman's style in his game plan. At least twenty minutes into the game though, it was clear Chapman was going to allow a very loose game. Chapman didn't call a bad game but Columbus took advantage where Chicago did not. The play that gives you this game in a nutshell is in the 40th minute when Emilio Renteria knocks down Austin Berry and finishes an easy goal. Renteria's move is not all that dastardly. Berry is unlikely to go in hard seeing as how he was charged with giving up a penalty kick situation in his first MLS game less than a month ago.
As in his rookie debut, Berry later redeemed himself scoring a great header in the 72nd minute of play. That only made the score Columbus 2 - Chicago 1 though. A fast and furious attempt at the end of the game did not lead an equalizer. Over 600 Fire fans that traveled for Firehouse East had to go home after a Fire defeat. The NBC 5 Chicago audience got to see some entertaining moments but this was not a game the Fire would pick to showcase after the fact. More thoughts on the game and the rest of Eastern Conference are after the break.
The early lineup release included Sebastian Grazzini and Dominic Oduro but neither player ended up starting. Federico Puppo played the lone forward while Oduro started on the bench. Grazzini did not even make the 18. I don't mind either player's absence from the lineup. Chicago had played 5 games in 22 days entering last night's match and Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match against the Michigan Bucks looms large. The Bucks and their indoor facility pose some unique challenges (not to mention a ton of bad blood between the two thanks to some epic Fire PDL vs. Bucks matches). Michigan will be giving everything they've got. It made sense to hold out Grazzini for Tuesday. There's no indication that Grazzini is hurt.
The presence of a veteran in central defense would have helped out a lot last night. Arne Friedrich's time table to return should make him available for the New York Red Bulls game on June 17. That's a huge bonus because the thought of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper lining up against Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Sean Johnson is the stuff of nightmares. On the one hand, Anibaba-Berry-Johnson haven't given up more than two goals. On the other hand, I have no confidence that the trio could lead the Fire to a shutout. It's a promising future but a wary present in Chicago.
Puppo was completely uninspiring yesterday. It's hard to believe that veteran Kheli Dube couldn't give at least a little more than the small Uruguayan. Chris Rolfe traveled with the team and participated in some light warm-ups. Once Rolfe returns, I would very much like to see Dube get a shot at the bench, Rolfe a shot in the starting lineup, and Puppo on the next line out of town. Alex arrives in late June and that will put the Fire at the full 8 international slots. Unless the Fire can make a trade for an additional international slot, Puppo stands in the way of adding a foreign international. Perhaps Klopas can swing a trade for some talent but after coming out like a bandit in his deals last year, I can understand other clubs being hesitant to answer his calls.
Eastern Conference Foes Move Up
Columbus looked lifeless coming into May but they've really turned it around. With the victory over Chicago, the Crew have captured 11 points this month and are riding a 5 game unbeaten streak. Columbus is now tied with the Fire at 18 points in 12 games. Houston is right behind 16 points in 11 games after beating the LA Galaxy 2-1 yesterday. D.C. United claimed first place in the East after fighting back a Revs comeback last night. DCU have 27 points in 15 games which means the Fire would have to win their next three games in order to maintain pace. Sporting KC plays later tonight and they would be ahead of the Fire's pace even with a loss.
Chicago has smaller fish to fry to on Tuesday but make no mistake; this was a very unfortunate loss for the team.
Chicago Fire 1 - 2
Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; , Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry,
Substitutes not used: , , ,
Columbus Crew: ; Sebastian Miranda, ( , 54'), , (Nemanja Vukovic, 50'); ( , 66'), Kevan George, , ; ©, Emilio Renteria
Substitutes not used: , , ,
CLB - Eddie Gaven (Shaun Francis) 9'
CLB - Emilio Renteria (Eddie Gaven, Shaun Francis) 43'
CHI - Austin Berry (Daniel Paladini) 72'
CLB - Bernardo Anor (caution) 67'