Closer Look: A Wrinkle (Just) In Time

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The game against Montreal should have been a win. The misses were frustrating. But the miss from Nyarko on a Magee pass may have shown the way for Harry Shipp to become a scoring option for the Fire

With just a couple minutes to go in a first half dominated by the Fire, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made a seemingly harmless header attempt near midfield to finish a clearance.

It was a poor header, though, and Marco Di Vaio ended up with the ball. The odd bounce caught the Fire flat-footed, and before anyone could close the Italian down, he laced a pass of his own to Fire-killer Jack McInerney, who streaked in behind the defense to score yet another goal on the Men in Red. It was not a classic case of conceding for the Fire, who generally give up goals on set pieces. But it was another reminder of the quick defensive mistakes that have kept the club out of the win column.

When looking at the dominant offensive numbers of the club, it would be easy to point the finger at the defense and punching bags of choice, Bakary Soumare and Hurtado. After all, the Fire enjoyed 56 percent of possession, had seven more corner kicks, and outshot the Impact 17 to 6.

Congratulations Hurtado and Soumare, those numbers actually take you off the hook this week. For once it was not a defensive slip or set piece nightmare to blame on a draw, but offensive ineptitude.

It was great to see the Fire dominate the flow of play and show some attacking spirit. I thought Patrick Nyarko and Lovel Palmer from the back were particularly encouraging and brought more to the table than usual. None of it mattered, though, because it was a performance worthy of three points, not one.

The result was not unjust because it was the players who let themselves down. Against Philadelphia, the reigning MVP and heart of the team missed a game-winning penalty at home. That was unacceptable. Saturday, the offense was once again left to wonder where the finishing touch went.

Nothing is more frustrating than playing solid defense, controlling the offense and coming up empty handed. I'm sure the players feel the same. Quincy Amarikwa has done more than enough early on and it is unfair to expect Magee to match last year's goal total (it needs to be said Magee pressed Saturday and made some poor decisions, so it is fair to expect more than what he has shown early this season).

What the team needs is depth scoring and I believe it has that potential on the roster already. Last week I wrote about not wanting to see a Jeff Larentowicz and Matt Watson midfield pairing and I got my wish. Alex was reinserted and proved he has the defensive ability to help cover Larentowicz while still showing more initiative than Watson can in the attack.

Alex is once again the focal point to what I would like to see Saturday against New England and the blueprint was provided in the Montreal draw. Everyone knows Larentowicz and Hurtado missed two golden scoring chances in Saturday's game that need to be converted. That's part of the depth scoring this team will need if it wants a playoff appearance. But the miss I want to focus on, and I think holds great potential, happened around the 35-minute mark.

The play starts with Lovel Palmer streaking up the right side and sending in a failed cross that comes out to Magee, who is positioned wide right where Nyarko normally would be. Magee lays the ball off to Harry Shipp, who is roaming freely to combine, and he and Magee work a give-and-go. The defense collapses on Magee, who squirts loose into the channel leaving Nyarko - tucked into the center in Magee's normal space - to receive a pass in space, wide open, running in the box, where he misses the chance.

Conceptually, the play is meant to use Magee as a decoy to leave another player (the all important depth scoring) wide open. It worked well on the right, so why not try it on the left and introduce a new potential scoring threat in Harry Shipp to add even more depth?

It's time to take advantage of Quincy Amarikwa's hot streak and play to Shipp's strengths. Shipp is clearly better in the central midfield - his passing and movement are great there, and his lack of pace makes it difficult to really be effective on the outside. But unlike some fans, I believe a permanent shift to the middle at this point is too much responsibility for the rookie.

Instead, let Alex keep his role and deploy Shipp in the middle of the field more often by running overlaps and misdirection. Watch that Magee-Shipp-Nyarko play and change the players. Amarikwa takes Magee's role, Shipp takes Nyarko's role and Alex takes Shipp's responsibility. Defenses have to respect Amarikwa at this point so the space should be there.

If Shipp finishes those chances, the team has just added some scoring depth it needs.

Watching that wrinkle to the offense was great Saturday. With the season no longer in it's maiden stage, it's time to aggressively pursue wins. Alex deserves his role in the midfield, but Shipp should stay on the field. Throwing in scoring opportunities for the rookie could be the key in making the offensive domination we saw Saturday pay off in points.

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