I find myself becoming one of those fans.
After watching the Fire go down to 10 men and then fall behind 2-0 to the MLS-leading Seattle Sounders, I immediately thought game over. Surely this two-win, possession-challenged team would not be able to climb such a mountain.
But to my surprise, the Fire fought back. The Men in Red successfully continued to get under the skin of Obafemi Martins, drawing enough ire out of the Nigerian striker to get him sent off and even the playing field back at 10 a side.
A late first-half goal from Harry Shipp gave his teammates and fans the confidence that it would be no night to lay down and die. Seattle was in for a fight. After falling down 3-1, Shipp struck again and with time winding down, hopes of an equalizer were alive and well.
The Fire fell short in the final minutes, but immediately after the game I felt satisfied. "What an effort," I thought, what a way to fight against the northwest giants.
The next day I caught myself. I realized I was becoming "that" fan. The one who becomes OK with a good effort, almost completely forgetting the bigger picture. The picture that shows the team you love is 2-4-8 and near the bottom of the table.
Realizing a 3-2 home loss would be the last MLS game the Fire play in quite a while ended up leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
The playoff race is officially on when the Fire return to MLS action. Good efforts can still go appreciated, as they will by me, but that does not mean accountability cannot be increased. There is no time to be understanding and patient with youth if players such as Benji Joya or Chris Ritter make mistakes or efforts worthy of a benching. There is no time to pander to experience or stature and allow players such as Juan Luis Anangonó chance after chance with no results.
Is this team good enough to make the playoffs when at its best? I don't know. Can more be expected of the coach and players? Yes. The anger and drive to atone for a poor result the players and coaches showed in the wake of the Real Salt Lake collapse is what I want to see. Enjoy the World Cup fellas, but then realize urgency is of the utmost importance when you all return.
XI: Harry Shipp – Still my front runner for MLS Rookie of the Year and without a doubt the team MVP for the season so far. He notched two more goals Saturday and showed amazing individual effort throughout. The calmness in which he executes runs at this level so early in his career is astounding. I don't mean to crown the kid (yes I do) but I'm just saying Harry might not be watching the World Cup in 2018 if you catch my drift.
X: Jeff Larentowicz – Call me crazy but I thought the captain played really well Saturday. The second holding midfielder really seems to make Larentowicz a lot more comfortable moving forward offensively and he showed some of that Saturday. He had a tremendous header that took a star effort from Stefan Frei to stop. He recovered well defensively too. He also was ticked off after the game and demanded more from himself and teammates, so kudos for the leadership.
IX: Sean Johnson – Everyone's favorite goaltender had another busy game of attempting to organize a scrambling (and depleted) back line and clearing out corner kick attempts and set pieces. Johnson did give up three goals, but one was a penalty, another was a great finish by Martins and another was non-existent support by his defense. Still, it was not his best showing. He was lucky to go unpunished for aggressively running off his line and losing the race to Martins who uncharacteristically missed a wide open net.
VIII: Quincy Amarikwa – The forward played with his trademark hustle and physicality, helping to set up both of Shipp's goals on the night. Amarikwa had a glorious chance as well but had a better chance of blasting Frei's face off than scoring as it was directly to the head of the Seattle goalkeeper who managed to save his face. I love Quincy but he needs to make sure he does not look to draw penalties more than he tries to hold the ball up, which he is capable of. He doesn't want to get in the same ref issues he scolded Mike Magee for earlier in the season.
VII: Bakary Soumare – Was he great? No. Did he do a lot better than I thought he would with the team down to 10 men and his partner Hurtado out of the game? Yes. The defense struggled at times of course, but Lovel Palmer suffered the worst of it and much of the woes came from the midfield once again failing to hold the ball for any good amount of time. I thought Soumare recovered well and tried to get the offense going when he could.
VI: Chris Ritter – He was unspectacular but he looked more comfortable. He already has shown decent improvement each game since his blunder against the Galaxy. Eventually the team is going to need more out of him, but when it comes to midfield production, the burden still falls on Larentowicz and Joya to produce.
V: Gonzalo Segares – I think many would argue he was the best defensive player in the game for the Fire and I wouldn't disagree, I just don't think he was challenged as often as Soumare. He gets ranked a bit lower because I know he is capable of more in the offense. Still, looks to be the top choice over Cochrane who should keep his legs warm with a start against Pittsburgh on the 18th.
IV: Benji Joya – He gets moved out of position slightly to play wide left. The fact is he wasn't creating in the central midfield and he continued to struggle on the outside. Joya has shown he can be creative when he has about 7 yards of space and time to get his head up. But when defenses close in on him as they have the past few games, he panics and loses the ball far too quickly.
III: Grant Ward – I love his athleticism and I expect these kind of growing pains, but he just didn't have a good game. He made some runs but generally disappeared and near the end of the game looked as if he were trying to kick the ball all the way back to White Hart Lane. I expect him to settle in soon and become more dangerous.
II: Lovel Palmer – Had his roughest game since New York. Got beat far too often and was absolutely out of position on the Lamar Neagle goal that really sucked the life out of the team and fans. He has been super consistent all year and last time he played this poorly he bounced back well. Credit to him for at least attempting to work through a late hamstring injury. Hopefully it isn't serious.
I: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – He turned the game over to Seattle. He was beaten badly and had to pull down Martins, which led to his first yellow. He then tried to dropkick/leg drop/bronco buster Martins in the box to draw a second yellow, that honestly could have been a straight red. I don't appreciate Martins flying in the air like he stepped on a land mine, but Hurtado should know better. Inexcusable performance.
Best: Victor Pineda – The way he danced with the ball made my heart flutter. Looked good.
OK: Alex – Great to see him back, but he was understandably a bit rusty.
Bad: Juan Luis Anangono – Take out the first 14 letters of his name and that's what I think of him at this point.