While it's always hard to have a successful run snapped, it's not the end of the world. Breathe. Relax. This Fire team in still good. However, today threw into light once again some serious issues that Frank Klopas must address, and soon. While the team fought admirably, the Fire sputtered in the 2nd half and were out-muscled all day long. And Mike Magee was NOT happy during and after the game. I will touch on that a bit later though.
Things started off on the wrong foot almost immediately. In the 6th minute, Matt Besler sent a long throw in into the box. Kei Kamara got a piece of it, and the ball bounced to Benny Feilhaber. He proceeded to fire a shot that took a ricochet off the left post and bounce just inside the right one. It was unfortunately a familiar sight as the Fire have struggled at set piece defending all year long. Bakary Soumare failed to challenge Kamara, and Jalil Anibaba was left flat footed and ball watching at the top of the 18 yard box. Thus, the Fire went down early 1-0.
While most of us are used to this feeling by now, a 1 goal deficit is not the end of the world in Fire land. Problem is, SKC would add a second just moments later. In the 8th minute, Austin Berry dumped a ball to Jalil Anibaba on the edge of the 18 yard box. Jalil promptly turned the ball over to Seth Sinovic. He promptly fed Graham Zusi, and the Fire defense decided to give him all the room and time in the world. Anibaba, Jeff Larentowicz, and Patrick Nyarko all failed to pressure Zusi and close him down.
Zusi sent in what looked to be a standard cross with some swerve, targeted for Kamara. For some unknown reason, Paolo Tornaghi was out of position and actually took a step away from goal when the ball was hit. That moment of indecision was all it took for the ball to nestle into the upper right corner of the net for a very early and shocking 2-0 SKC lead.
While it may seem like I am being overly harsh on the defense, the reality is that these same mental lapses keep happening over and over again. It's easier to overlook them when the team wins, but they have been with us for the past couple of years. While the offense has been able to bail the team out, it doesn't matter how good you are. Conceding the first goal repeatedly is never a long term recipe for sustained success.
Going along with the script, this early lead by the opposition woke the Men in Red up. In the 10th minute, Chris Rolfe would gather a short clearance off of a corner kick. Rolfe hit a rocket that Jimmy Nielsen pushed over the crossbar for a corner kick. Rolfe would be the culprit again in the 17th minute as he gathered a long ball over the top and flicked it around Nielsen. Unfortunately, the ball rolled just wide of the post for a missed golden opportunity. While Rolfe scored last game, he again struggled today and just couldn't buy a goal it seemed.
The Fire would finally break through in the 38th minute courtesy of red hot Mike Magee. After a bit of pinball action, Jeff Larentowicz headed a ball that bounced through everyone. Magee got on the end of it, took a couple of cool touches, and slotted it past Nielsen to cut the deficit in half. The half would end with a scoreline of 2-1, but Fire fans had to be encouraged as the Men in Red really controlled the final 15-20 minutes of the 1st half.
Coming out of the break, Daniel Paladini was immediately subbed in for Alex, who was not as effective today as he has been lately. Despite the changes, the Fire had an abysmal 2nd half to be honest. Austin Berry came up big in the 59th minute to make a couple of huge plays and keep the Fire within one goal. After that, there was a large stretch of some pretty uninspiring play, mostly by the Men in Red.
The Fire would have one more golden opportunity that again went wanting in the 87th minute. Off a thrown in Mike Magee found Joel Lindpere, who raced in to the box and cut the ball over perfectly to Dilly Duka. Despite an ideal set up, the recently in form Duka scuffed his shot and rolled a tame attempt into the arms of Nielsen. While I would take the odds that Duka slots home that shot most games, today it wasn't meant to be.
The 93rd minute all but sealed the fate of the Men in Red. Dom Dwyer was on the receiving end of a poor tackle by Daniel Paladini. While known for his tenacity, this particular challenge was not smart and put an exclamation point on a frustrating day for the Fire. Paladini received a very deserved straight red for his challenge, and that was that.
As hard as it is to say sometimes, the Fire were simply beaten by a better, more physical Sporting KC team today. And the 2nd half was a big part of that (apart from conceding 2 goals in the first 10 minutes, that is). As the final segment of the first half showed, the Fire were able to create and build attacks through the midfield.
I was hoping this would carry over into the 2nd half. Unfortunately, it didn't. Chicago could not string together a few passes to save their lives it seemed. When the ball was in possession of the Fire, it was either turned over quickly or sent up the field via long ball over and over again. And that's just not a strategy that works against a physical team like KC. The midfield in the 2nd half resembled the same group that struggled mightily out of the gates this season. While we all know that the team is much better than that now, the 2nd half today certainly harkened back to early 2013 Fire soccer.
KC really pressed up the pitch, and the Fire had a hard time adjusting to that. With such a clogged midfield, the Fire just could not put any sort of coherent attacks together. Rather than playing one or two touch soccer, every time a player gathered the ball they were swarmed by baby blue jerseys. And today the Men in Red just couldn't make proper adjustments to find the equalizer. Which throws into the light the couple of golden opportunities missed earlier in the game. They certainly came back to bite the Fire today. We have to do better at putting away those chances. Simple as that.
Before Duka's scuffed attempt in the 87th minute, the Fire didn't really even threaten goal in the entire half. In fact, I have a hard time even recalling Magee touching the ball before late into the match. And that simply won't get it done in MLS play.
One other issue I had was Frank's choice to put in Sherjill MacDonald ahead of Maicon Santos. And, in what has seemed to be par for the course this year, Mackie was bad, to be kind. He could not hold the ball up, could not pass, and was even called lazy by Taylor Twellman at one point. I just don't understand the choice to keep Santos on the bench.
As I mentioned at the top of the recap, Mike Magee was visibly upset on the pitch, as well as postgame at the effort displayed, especially in the 2nd half. As well he should be. The Men in Red had a serious dearth of possession in the 2nd stanza, and this must be used as a learning experience. It's nice to have a player trying to light a fire (no pun intended) under the rest of the team when they deserve it.
While today was a setback, I again want to re-iterate that in no way should people take a sky is falling approach based off of this one loss. The team is till 5 points off a playoff spot, but I think that we have proven the squad has some definite quality. If anything, today shows that there still needs to be an addition or 2 made in the summer window. And the backline must figure out ways to stop these destructive mental lapses. Despite a hot offense, they can't always bail out poor play on the defensive end.
The Fire return to MLS action on July 14th for a tough away match against Vancouver, followed by a July 20th home match against DC United. The Men in Red have a friendly against Club America sprinkled in this Wednesday at Toyota Park. Hopefully the team will use the next week to figure out some adjustments and start another unbeaten streak. Keep your heads up Fire fans, this team will bounce back.
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica