Everyone seems really happy with the Fire right now. Great result on Saturday versus a solid, if somewhat unspectacular road team. Read Ruben's recap if you want more of a positive spin on this.
This game bothered me. During the game I was busy asking myself "how are the Fire tied right now" because it was not a very good first half. Then when they went up in the second half "how are we winning right now?" was audibly said by me and others. Saturday's performance does not fill me with confidence going forward.
Montreal opted to put some high pressure on the Fire back line. While not completely effective it worked against Berry who didn't have the trusty figure of Pavel Pardo to pass the ball to. On more than a few occasions he was frustrated into a making a bad pass. Berry's night was pretty bad by his lofty standards. In the first ten minutes he made a few mistakes that led to goal scoring opportunities. The key one being the corner that was conceded early in the first half that Montreal should have converted into a goal. Terrible defending on the resulting set piece nearly resulted in a goal. The counter attack led by MLS stalwart Davy Arnaud in the 9th minute was also handled atrociously. If Montreal had a slightly faster striker that would have been a significantly more difficult shot on goal than what resulted. Berry was caught completely out of position on the first goal. Was in a weird spot in an attempt to gather the oncoming header which allowed a significant amount of space.
The absence of Pavel Pardo (out with a tight hamstring according to the broadcast) was felt in the first half. The team was all out of sorts. No direction in passing from deep in the midfield. A big reason for the Fire's success has been their terrific spine. Friedrich, Pause and Pardo being huge components of this. Their calm veteran demeanor aids the rather young players around them. In particular Berry and Anibaba. This appeared to be missing Saturday, in part due to the opening formation. According to the formation shown on television Alvaro Fernandez started in the defensive midfielder role with Pause wide left. I'm pretty sure that didn't happen. It was hard to tell where exactly Pause, Fernandez and Alex were supposed to be. Those three players looked a bit confused as to what they were supposed to do. As a result no one was consistently tracking back to receive the ball from the CB's like Pardo does. This, partly, allowed a significant amount of chances from the top of the box and a major reason why the Fire looked so flat for the first 30 minutes of play. Somewhere around the 27th the formation appeared to solidify with Pause back to his traditional position and Fernandez out left.
Jalil Anibaba's play at right back continues to be a very hit or miss. Nice pass on the assist but he didn't hit that cross the first time and instead passed it out to Pause who looked confused at what to do with the ball since it should have been crossed in. So he passed it back to Jalil basically saying "hit the cross". It all worked out but you expect your RB to hit that cross first chance he gets. Jalil is clearly not comfortable offensively at right back. He is trying but the knowledge just isn't there right now. The Dan Gargan for Friedrich substitution helped stabilize the right back while putting Jalil in his superior position. This ended up being a net gain for the second half.
Things got a bit better in the second half. Or so I thought live. When I watched the broadcast of the game it was apparent that the Fire still gave up way to many chances to Montreal. Now to be fair this is what Montreal does. They create chance after chance after chance. They like to get guys into the box and shoot at goal. It is simple and effective for them (watch out for this team next season). What was surprising to me was the ease at which they were able to attack parts of the Fire defense. For a while it was in the middle. Then they switched their attack out to the wings. Anywhere they could find space they put the ball. I feel like the template for beating the Fire is in this game somewhere. Montreal didn't find it exactly but they laid some of the groundwork.
Perhaps I'm just being full of worry. More likely I'm just annoyed by all the positive energy surrounding this team after a rather lackluster performance. The team is going to need better performances from here on out to get to the 60 point plateau. Against the better teams in the East, these lackluster performances are just not going to cut it.