The Fire won a game!
In last week's player rankings, I said Saturday's game would be true test for Frank Yallop and give fans an idea of the kind of leader he would be for the club. Would the players respond from an absolute heartbreaking loss at home or would they be flat and turn in a performance that could signal the end of the season at an early stage?
Yallop showed he could motivate his men to forget the past and win in a stadium where the Red Bulls have been dominant in the last 12 months.
The game ranks right up there with Portland/Seattle game from earlier in the year in the entertainment department and the wild ending showed the players possess the composure and self-belief to hold on to a lead when it looked like a case of déjà vu was setting in.
We're all feeling a little more optimistic heading into a home clash with the defending champions who will be without Graham Zusi and Matt Besler.
But before then, let's put a bow on Saturday's game and hand out rankings. Remember, players can't receive the same score. They are ranked from best to worst.
XI: Harry Shipp – One of the best performances from a Fire player in the last few years. A hat trick from a rookie in a tough venue off a tough loss should give all Fire fans dreams of what could be when it comes to Shipp. His finishing touch and composure were fantastic Saturday and even when he was not scoring, he was the best midfielder in possession. He set up Mike Magee with a beautiful ball that should have been in the back of the net. It was the first Fire hat trick since Marco Pappa in September 2011.
X: Patrick Nyarko – Undoubtedly the best performance of the season. Nyarko took a while to get going but had more demands in this game as his right-flank partner Lovel Palmer had a rough game. Nyarko pressured the ball all game and made some nice passes. He was crucial in Shipp's second goal, running in on Armando at the top of the box to force the critical turnover. He then scored on a cross meant for either Magee or Greg Cochrane, but it was a worthy reward for his unyielding hustle. 60 minutes of his hard running followed by a 30 minutes of Dilly Duka's hard running would be a pretty great setup if possible.
IX: Quincy Amarikwa – Amarikwa proved once again that the Real Salt Lake game may have been different had his physical presence been on the pitch. He was a constant thorn in the side of defenders and never backed down from the physical Jamison Olave. He bodied up well and pressed high, even causing Luis Robles to kick it directly at him when attempting a clearance. He made a great run and perfectly deflected header off a Jeff Larentowicz cross to net a goal. The work he did defensively on corner kicks should not go unnoticed either.
VIII: Sean Johnson – Yes, New York scored four goals but this game would have ended in a tie if not worse had it not been for the work Johnson did in the last 15 minutes of the game. His stop on Thierry Henry may have been his greatest stop of the year so far and it was certainly his most important. He came up big when he had to and showed the flashes of athleticism that make people think a spot on the national team is only a matter of time.
VII: Patrick Ianni – He was the defender with the most pressure on him having not started at all this year. Despite the tough environment and the potential game rust, Ianni played a solid game and may have earned a starting spot. He was the best of the defenders on the day, making multiple clearances and a couple sliding tackles that deflected would-be shots out of play. He had a lapse on Bradley Wright-Phillips first goal, running off his man toward Henry who was already marked by Hurtado. Other than that, he showed enough to keep Soumare on the bench another game, in my opinion.
VI: Jeff Larentowicz – The captain looked comfortable playing both ways, though he took a while to assert himself in the early going. I thought he was an important part of the team looking to press more than normal and despite the team being outplayed in the central midfield, he more than supported Benji Joya in the attack. It was the absolute beautiful cross off the set piece that led to Amarikwa's goal that really boosted his value this week. Good game.
V: Greg Cochrane – Most of New York's best moments came on the right side of the Fire's defense and that was largely because Cochrane was staying with his man on the left side. He did allow a few too many crosses in, but nothing as dangerous as the other side. He recovered well when he needed to and seems to be developing a nice chemistry with Shipp on the offensive side.
IV: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – He worked so hard for so long this game. He really did a good job in the air, staying tight to the physical players on New York especially during corners. He cleared out the box well and was in position most of the night. He got caught a bit flat footed on Bradley Wright-Phillip's second goal but it was the foul on Henry that led to the late penalty kick that lowered his rank. Henry went down a bit easy, but the contact was there.
III: Mike Magee – When the offense explodes for five goals, one would hope the reigning MVP and a 20+ goal scorer would be involved. The Magic Man wasted a chance veteran strikers should convert early in the game. After that, he became more frustrated, letting the passion we all love take over a bit too much as he was distracted with referee decisions too often. When he fell back in the midfield, he didn't create the way Shipp was able too. When he laid the ball off, he didn't make the runs that led to chances. Not his best game.
II: Lovel Palmer – After being the best of the defenders last week, Lovel was the worst of the bunch Saturday. The first goal conceded was nearly all on him. Palmer first tries to advance up field before turning it over and needing to run back to recover, kicking it out of play. New York throws the ball in, Palmer hangs way too far back on Eric Alexander who crosses it in for a Tim Cahill header. Palmer was way off on Johnny Steele's cross that led to a goal as well. His usual offensive contributions were also stymied. He just didn't close down space enough.
I: Benji Joya – Pretty much non-existent expect for the absolute atrocious back pass that looked like it was meant to hit Henry in stride breaking toward the Fire goal. He was one of the few who found no success pressuring the ball and he was dispossessed multiple times. The back pass of doom may have got in his head and thrown off his whole performance. He is still young and those errors can mess with the mentality of a rookie. He'll need to learn to forget and move on during the course of a game. It was a lackluster enough performance to where Yallop could be looking at Alex next week with Joya coming off the bench.
Logan Pause, Gonzalo Segares & Juan Luis Anangono: Those were your three substitutes in this game and, unlike the Real Salt Lake game where Matt Watson and Victor Pienda came in and made a mess of it, these three did well. The game was on the brink of becoming a disaster with New York pressing hard for an equalizer but Pause's presence especially kept the team collected enough to hold on.
Segares also had nice moments including a header that cleared the box at the near post. JLA only had a few minutes on the pitch but did nothing to really detract or add to the overall performance.
How did you see the XI for the Fire? Is Joya too low? Did Johnson's mega save earn him the spot right behind Shipp? Share your thoughts.