The star of the first two pre-season games? It has to be Yazid Atouba for me - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Well Fire fans, they play pre-season games for a reason. Although today's loss to our arch rivals won't sit well (pre-season or not), in the grand scheme of things the game didn't matter. These games are for improving as a team and getting a look at our youngsters and draft picks
After looking pretty decent in their 2-0 win over FGCU the other day, the Fire struggled a bit more today, mostly in a fairly punch-less 1st half. In the Fire's defense, they were playing into a very stiff wind, which played some crazy tricks with the ball. It's pretty hard for any team to be as accurate with passes, crosses, and long balls when kicking into a gale.
Another point which seemed to hold the Fire back in the 1st half would be the lack of attack from the right side of the field. Logan Pause again got the start at RB, and Wells Thompson was slotted in ahead of him. I don't have to tell you this isn't the most electric right-sided attack force in the league.
After a fairly uneventful opening block of the game, the Crew would strike force. Mystery trialist #2 was revealed during the game to be Neal Kitson. Unfortunately for Kitson, he had a relative day to forget and seriously damaged his hopes of winning the 3rd GK spot out of camp. In the 21st minute, Kitson cleaned out Eddie Gaven in the box for an obvious penalty. Federico Higuain calmly slotted the PK into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. It was a poor choice by Kitson, who left his line to try to claim a ball when he would have been better served staying home. He had defending help and just got a bit too anxious I think.
This put the Fire in a hole early and the Men in Red really could get anything going in the first half with the stiff wind blowing. In fact, there wasn't much more to note for the rest of the half. At the break, as expected Frank really shook things up, and the Fire instantly looked better with some speed on the field in Oduro and Atouba. Having the wind at their back didn't hurt either. The Men in Red came out of the gate on the front foot and finally began applying some real pressure to the Crew.
Despite a better Fire attack, the Crew would take a 2-0 lead against the run of play. In the 65th minute, Ethan Finlay and the Crew sprung a counter attack, which culminated in Sercan Guvenisik depositing the ball past James Belshaw for a 2-0 lead. This definitely took the wind out of the Fire's sails, but as they have shown the past couple of years, this team doesn't quit.
The clear bright spot of the day was again Yazid Atouba. He looked even better today than he did against FGCU in my opinion. He flew down the wings, created chances, and worked extremely hard. He definitely has a good work rate, as he doesn't give up on any ball and will chase them down until he passes out from exhaustion. He is almost like a mini Patrick Nyarko, which would be an incredible draft pick for us if he can develop into a player like Patty.
I know I know, I don't want to put the cart before the horse. Although the scouting reports sing his praises in terms of athleticism, speed and ability, the main consensus against him was that he was very raw. Well, that may be, but he has clearly shown his ability these first two games. For me, he has been the most impressive player in a red Fire Quaker jersey thus far this pre-season.
Atouba would end up halving the deficit in the 89th minute with a sweet goal off his left foot. It was a nice culmination for the kid after the display he put on in the 2nd half. Here's to seeing a lot more of him this pre-season and maybe even the regular season. You can never have too many Patrick Nyarko like wingers.
The Fire will return to Chicago and have the next 2 days off before heading to leg 2 of their pre-season camp in Ventura California from February 2nd-February 10th. Hopefully the snow storm hitting the Midwest today and tomorrow won't make their return too difficult. The next matches for the Fire come on February 5th against Chivas USA, followed by a February 9th clash against clown haired Steven Lenhart and the San Jose Earthquakes. The Men in Red will also get in a reserve match against the University of California-Santa Barbara. This should give some of the youngsters even more playing time as well as allow the coaching staff to make final evaluations and cuts as the opening of the 2013 MLS season draws closer.