Dilly Duka has looked good in Fire red so far this year - Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
The Men in Red have looked good so far this year, and the past two days have further backed up that statement
The Fire notched a nice pre-season win over the Dynamo yesterday. Although it didn't work out for HTIOT to get a feed (and that USL feed didn't work well for anyone else either), the Fire were able to continue their solid early form with a win. The Dynamo initially took the lead off a strike from Adam Moffat in the 15th minute. Like always, the Fire responded in kind and fought back into the contest.
In the 23rd minute, new man Dilly Duka found a streaking Sherjill MacDonald, who quickly deposited the ball into the Dynamo net to knot the game at 1. A short time later, Dilly Duka would again be a part of the action as a ball ended up bouncing around Duka and the Houston defense, ultimately ending up in the back of the net for a 2-1 Fire advantage.
Just after the break, the Fire earned a corner kick, and that preceded another Chicago goal. Joel Lindpere took the kick, and newcomer Jeff Larentowicz got a head to the ball to extend the Fire to a 3-1 lead.
Cam Weaver would pull one back for the Dynamo in the 64th minute when he was able to head one into the Chicago goal. The Fire would again threaten courtesy of Yazid Atouba (yeah, you might have heard his name a few times this year). Atouba drew a penalty in the 84th minute, but the resulting Maicon Santos PK was saved by Tally Hall.
Despite a back and forth affair, the Men in Red would hold on for the win. The result was short lived, as a reserve game against Coastal Carolina kicked off on Sunday. The fine form of the boys from Chicago would again shine through in a 4-2 win.
As with the first XI on Saturday, the reserves would fall behind courtesy of a Jacob Stourac goal in the 2nd minute. Again, mirroring the starters on Saturday, the reserves would fight back and have the final say. In the 13th minute, Maicon Santos would glide through the defense and deposit a score to tie the game at 1.
Shortly thereafter, in the 19th minute, Michael Videira found Alex on the volley for a 2-1 Fire lead. Alex wasn't done for the half, as he found Wells Thompson in the 31st minute for a 3-1 advantage. Coastal Carolina would close within a goal in the 2nd half, but Kellen Gulley would help put the game out of reach when he found Colin Rolfe for the 4th Fire goal. This would ice the game and give the Men in Red yet another pre-season victory.
While it's hard to give more in depth analysis to games that aren't either reliably televised or not available at all, by the sound of it the team is really starting to gel. This is to be expected as the last phase of the pre-season is under way. Alex seemed to be a boss on Sunday, and the Fire midfield in general really seems to be stepping up. Fresh face Dilly Duka stepped his game up, as well as Larentowicz and Lindpere.
This is a very good omen for the Fire, and a credit to the moves that Frank Klopas has made this off-season. While in the end these games don't mean anything, you know as well as I it is much more comforting heading in to the regular season on a positive note rather than a negative one. While there are still 2 games to go in the CCC, it's clear the Fire are starting to click as a team and that is a very comforting thought.
One thing that is clearly sticking out to me is how the midfield is shaping up. All of this depth is forcing a mega positional battle. It would seem that each and every Fire player is stepping up in this regard, which is tremendous news. Alex, Duka, and Atouba continue to tear it up. Lindpere and Larentowicz are what we thought they were. Folks, this is a dangerous midfield with depth and hunger. For me, this will be a major key for 2013. If the center of the pitch can keep this production and work rate up, good things are going to happen this year my friends.
The back line seems to be shaping up well, and the GK position is set in both SJ and Paolo. While striker is still a bit up in the air, an active and productive midfield will help greatly in the production department and help take pressure off Rolfe and Mackie.
I say with complete confidence that right now the Fire are a top 2 team in the East. I will reiterate that it's only pre-season, but the Fire have clearly improved with the moves that have been made during the off-season. While there are a couple of other tough East teams as always, many teams either failed to improve or lost key pieces heading into the 2013 season. The Fire talent is there to really do some damage this season.
The Men in Red are back in action on Wednesday at 6:15 PM CST against hosts Charleston Battery. We will make every attempt to have the feed on HTIOT if possible, but the USL does not make it easy for us to host the video. Here's to hoping the Fire midfield continues to boss opponents and round into shape for the 2013 season.