0-0 the WORST SCORELINE IN SOCCER was achieved in the heat against Houston last night. In many ways we shouldn't be surprised. Quick turnaround for both clubs. Houston played on Saturday and of course the Fire rocked KC's world on Friday. While there wasn't a lot of meat on the bones in this game (both teams looked like they were cool with the draw) let's dig in and see what we can find.
Houston held the majority of the possession. A lot of this was them playing defense with the ball. In other words they held possession and rested before they tried to attack again. From a Fire perspective this is fine. The Fire's prowess on the counter attack keeps other teams honest even when they have the ball. They know they can't just attack at will since that could end in disaster. This alone gives the Fire a defensive advantage. I would have liked to seen a bit more possession but without Grazzini they lack a midfielder who can hold the ball and give the team more of the ball on a regular basis (Alex looks like he can fill this roll).
Chris Rolfe is more than capable of triggering counter attacks from the attacking midfielder role. If the game isn't being called tight, he has a few more issues winning balls as he can physically be over powered by large defensive midfielders. Tonight was a prime example of this. It was a loosely called game and both teams were able to physically attack the other. Of course this is never to the Fire's advantage. Surprisingly Houston didn't take full advantage of the way the game is being called. Dom Kinnear is a master of the Thug Life dark arts. His teams historically have exerted their physical prowess to their advantage (especially post DeRo). Take a look at their run to the MLS Cup last year where they beat teams up with their large central defenders, big strikers, and strong midfield. This is never a team that wilts from physical contact. Yet in this game they didn't go to the classic Houston kick, clutch and grab. Perhaps this is a product of their now 2 game old formation change. This is the first time I can remember Houston opting for a 4-3-3. They do look a bit lost in that formation yet. This is clearly their first major tactical change to prepare for a post Ching world.
The Fire looked good on the counter attack. A bad call on Dominic Oduro being offsides cost the team their best goal scoring opportunity. As we have seen all it takes is one brilliantly executed counter attack for the Fire to score. This looked like it was it. There were some other chances that fizzled in the final third. There appeared to be a few issues with connecting passes on the break. I'd chalk that up to the short turnaround and the Houston heat than anything else. Klopas should probably should have run out a fresher lineup as well.
Defensively the team was good. They looked solid up the middle. Jalil Anibaba had a good game. He made a key tackle in the box on a rather ominous looking goal scoring chance during the first half. It was so good he got the Aldi's save of the game for the first half. Seriously. That ad spot at halftime illustrated that Sean Johnson wasn't really tested during this game. This was a product of the Fire limiting Houston's set pieces (yay!) and playing solid defense against the run of play. One thing that was concerning was the service from the wings for Houston. It was way too easy for them to suck in Gargan on the right and pump service in from the Fire's right flank. The left was also a bit leaky at times. You can't allow Houston to pump in balls from the side as they have too many players who hit good crosses on a regular basis. Combine that with the Fire's lack of size and you potentially have a recipe for disaster. Other than that the defense had one of its better performances this year. Solid work against a team whose strength matches up with the defenses big weakness.
A big problem during Frank Klopas' run as head coach is his lack of player rotation. It was a million degrees in KC on Friday night yet he trots out almost the exact same lineup 4 days later on another field where it is a million degrees. I don't understand it. How are you supposed to build depth when you don't trust the guys on your bench to start 1 out of every 4 games? I guess if Robayo was healthy he would have started (but come on eww gross) and maybe Puppo would have gotten the call if he wasn't hurt as well. Would it really hurt all that much to give Corben Bone and Daniel Paladini a start in Houston? Find a way to rest Dominic Oduro so he doesn't run out of gas like he did after he ate too many minutes before the 2 week break? You already won a game on this road trip. Any result in Houston is just gravy. I do understand Frank wanting to trot out his best guys every game. We are in shouting distance of a Supporter's Shield (8 points behind San Jose but with a game in hand) and 5 points behind DC for the Eastern Conference lead with a game in hand as well. Things haven't been this good this "late" in the season since 2009. Still I worry that this team will fade down the stretch. It could be unfounded but those three straight horrific losses in a row before this current winning streak stick with me. That was a tired team with little to no tactical imagination. I hope we aren't going to see another swoon.
Don't get me wrong this game was a GOOD RESULT. An excellent point on the road. These are exciting times for Fire fans. While all is not well (what is up with Seba?) things are looking pretty good. Enjoy the teams success and have a happy 4th.