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Game 1: I am Encouraged

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FRISCO, TX - MARCH 19:  Chicago Fire fans cheer on their team in the second half during an MLS game against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on March 19, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. The game ended 1-1. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
FRISCO, TX - MARCH 19: Chicago Fire fans cheer on their team in the second half during an MLS game against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on March 19, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. The game ended 1-1. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
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The Fire took 1 point on the road from the MLS Cup runner ups from last season. Oh yeah the Fire should have won the game as well.  Kevin Hartman did what Kevin Hartman does and saved FC Dallas from losing by two or three goals. 

More thoughts below the jump. 

At some point over the last month I had an article half written railing on Fire fans who didn't have hope for this season.  Essentially the point I wanted to make was that Fire fans had significantly over rated the contributions of the veterans who had left the team.  Conde, Brown, McBride, Thorrington, John, Krol in particular were all guys who underperformed or contributed to what appeared to be a listless and passionless team last season.  So why couldn't this team be better this year?  New signings, almost all universally young and hungry to go along with the good pieces remaining from last year's team.  You could argue that the only productive player the Fire lost from last season was Ljungberg.  The crux of the rest of that article is that I expect these players to be better than the guys that have left.

This leads me to last night's performance.  It was apparent in the first 25 minutes that the Fire were looking to counter attack, utilizing the speed of Pappa, Puerari and Chaves to quickly strike.  This worked as in the 17th minute Puerari was fouled (advantage should have been played) while advancing on a counter attack.  The resulting set piece netted Chaves' 1st goal in a Fire uniform. Good service from Marco Pappa on the free kick eventually led to a quality finish from Chaves.  He made a nice run towards the far post during the initial service to put himself into good position for any sort of rebound (something that rarely happened from the strikers last season).

Less than a minute later Ristic got beat down the right hand side giving a clean lane for the pass to be made which was nicely finished by Rodriguez.  Ristic did not play well before or after this.  The defensive shift to a 4 man back line was due to Ristic's play down the right hand side.  He was unable to cover the space needed.  Segares handled his roll fine on the left.  Ristic's mistake prone play was less pronounced after the defensive realignment. He was subbed off in the 43rd minute for Patrick Nyarko after being shaken up.  His injury didn't look to be serious.

Other thoughts on the first half:  Pappa really blew a chance in the 22nd minute.  He was in the box and free and could not get control of the ball and was unable to shoot or make the pass.  26th minute the Fire poorly handled a cross that ended up with a poor shot attempt that didn't even bother Johnson.  Backup keeper Jon Conway "offered" his hand in friendship to a fallen Dallas player along the Fire sidelines but it was REJECTED.  Anibaba had a few missteps, 31st minute kept guys on side which ended up not being a big deal and had a silly foul in the 36th minute.  37th minute Puerari blew a chance around the box.  He occasionally has a heavy first touch that lets him down.  41st minute Logan Pause with excellent one on one defensive play to strip the ball.  Really good work from Logan in this half.  45th minute Mikulic with solid defensive work as the half winded down.

Good first half for the Fire except for Ristic's poor play.

 

Second half:

Early in the second half you could see Nyarko's stabilizing presence on the right hand side with some solid passing and good movement.  Unfortunately this type of play did not continue.  He had a few bad passes at crucial times and was not meshing well with Puerari as he was content to stay on the wing instead of making a run towards the middle (71st minute in particular).  His tendency to pass when he should shoot cropped up as well.  Overall a disappointing season opener for Nyarko.

49th minute Chaves put a shot off the cross bar off a Puerari corner kick.  Unfortunate bounce off the underside of the cross bar as Hartman was beat.  Again fantastic positioning by Chaves on a set piece.

55th minute a straight Red Card to Brek Shea for being the last man knocking down Gaston Puerari who had cleanly beaten him seconds before.  Legit red card and one I hope we see more of from MLS officials this year.  Defenses have been allowed to be overly physical in the past and this type of play needs to be cracked down on.  I wager to guess that last season that would have been a yellow.  At this point the game opened up for the Fire as they had the best of the chances from here on out.

60th minute Puerari with a great run and one on one opportunity with Hartman.  Hartman made a terrific save with his left leg.  Unfortunate to not have scored here.

63rd minute Husidic on for Videira.  I did not notice Videira much this game but considering Dallas' anemic offensive output (only 2 decent chances) I have to consider his insertion into the starting lineup a success.  Husidic did not do to much in his time on the field.  Looks to be figuring out his new team mates yet.

A rather poor stretch for the Fire came in with the next 15 minutes.  Bad passing from Nyarko on two occasions (65th and 73rd minute) combined with Pappa not being able to beat his man one on one when he had options in the box to make a cross to (73rd minute and 80th) really killed some quality offensive opportunities.  You expect better passing from Nyarko going forward this season but Pappa really needs to make better decisions when he has other options than trying to beat his man one on one.  Segares was lucky to avoid a red card in the 79th minute after a rather reckless challenge that didn't come close to getting the ball.

The final ten minutes and stoppage were much better.  Nyarko received a nice pass from Pappa that he promptly decided not to shoot and passed it to far for an oncoming Anibaba.  He really should have shot the ball as he had a few guys lurking in the box for a rebound.  In the 90th minute Logan Pause with a excellent shot on goal that forced Hartman to tip it over the bar.  Great execution from Pause on the shot.  92nd minute saw Hartman again save FC Dallas by making an absolutely terrific save on a Marco Pappa blast that was heading into the top left hand corner of the goal.  On the ensuing corner Mikulic was unable to put a wild blast on frame.

A very encouraging performance from the Fire on the road against a side expected to be "very good" by most people. I would have liked the full 3 points being up a man for 30 minutes but gaining a point on the road is not to be discounted.  I had hope for this squad coming into this season and its nice to see that wasn't completely unfounded.  From this week alone you can see how badly last season's group of strikers played.  There was rarely this kind of energy and work rate from our attacking players.  Even Orr Barouch in his limited playing time worked hard in an attempt to create chances.  The defense looks to be a positive this season.  Gibbs, Mikulic, Anibaba, and Segares look to be a clear upgrade from Brown, Conde, Kroll/Umanzor, Banner/Kinney that manned the back most of last season.  The question remains as to how long DLC is going to stick with the 3-5-2.  This was an encouraging performance from the coaching staff on down.  I was very pleased with the play on the field.  If not for a fantastic performance from Kevin Hartman (who is almost always fantastic) the Fire would have 3 points.