I won't lie, I don't have anything good or redeeming to say about the Philly loss. Even a couple of days later, it still doesn't sit well with me. However, there is the silver lining that it was just a bad game. We know our Men in Red are much better than this. The beauty (and sometimes cruelty) of MLS is that no matter what happened your previous game, you can look forward to the next one and put past results behind you. Whether this means trumping a bad loss with a huge win, or having your wave of confidence from a huge win crashed by a bad loss, MLS play is the great equalizer. The Fire have a chance to scrub the awful aftertaste out of their mouths from the past two losses. The question is what team will show up Saturday. Hopefully it will be the team that we saw on the recent hot streak and not the team we saw vs. Philly.
With that out of the way, the team will focus on beating a Red Bull team featuring a prolific attack. I don't have to tell you that guys like Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, and Tim Cahill can cause some damage. Given the Fire's shaky defense the past 10 or so games (with no clean sheets), and especially the train wreck that was the philly game, we should all be rightly concerned. When the Fire defense is clicking, we can put the rein on any team (as evidenced by the San Jose game). Although that game ended in a draw, the Men in Red held the high flying San Jose scoring corps to a single goal. When the team is going bad, nights like Philly happen. Even the normal rock steady duo of the "A-Team" looked lost the other night. Add in the fact that the midfield was a mess and that turned the whole night into a Titanic-sized iceberg.
So what are some keys to the game? Well, the backline will be one big one. While it's always advisable to turn in a solid defensive performance if you want to win, the defense must get back on their feet after the debacle Wednesday. This will be helped by the return of Gonzalo Segares after missing the Philly game with a red card. Although this opened the door for Dan Gargan to cover the LB role, it is not his ideal role and it will be nice to have Sega back in the lineup. This should help stabilize the defense somewhat. Against an attack like New York features, any defense will have their hands full.
Another major factor that will determine the outcome of the game is our midfield. We are still missing Pavel Pardo, who is irreplaceable in terms of anyone else we have on the roster. Alex and Daniel Paladini have filled his role, and while both players are good, neither is anywhere the level of Pardo. Missing a player like that, especially against a tremendous offense, really hurts. It hurts us vs. SKC and Philly too. Honestly, I consider this situation to be like the Grazzini situation. When he was hurt last year (Open Cup final anyone?), we simply did not have anyone to replace him. And it cost us. Fortunately, Frank has been able to re-tool the offense to do even better despite Grazzini leaving. However, the dropoff from Grazzini to the next player is line is less than the dropoff from Pardo to Alex/Paladini. This does not bode well for the Fire.
If you watched the SKC and Philly games, you noticed some common things. The whole first half vs. SKC, we sat back too far, didn't pressure, and didn't move the ball well. We were awful at maintaining possession. While the 2nd half was better, it was too late. The same thing happened vs. Philly. There was sloppy play/passes, lack of possession, and we couldn't build an attack to save our lives. For a midfield that is normally dynamic and attacking, it was shocking to me. We MUST maintain possession tomorrow in midfield and not given away possession like a sieve. I think this might be the most important aspect of tomorrow. If the midfield plays like they have the last 2 games, it's going to be a long day and probably a blowout.
If the Men in Red can get back to possessing the ball, building attacks, and springing counters, we have a shot to come out of there with a point at least. We can't afford to lie back and give all the space in the world to New York. They will take that space and kill us. And we must pressure them too. Another sore point of the past 2 games i slack of pressure. When we had the ball, SKC swarmed us. When KC or Philly had the ball, it was as if they were taking a walk in the park. This must stop now.
In terms of personnel, the other couple of people to remember are Frank Klopas and Guillermo Franco. It will be nice to have Frank back patrolling the sidelines tomorrow. I don't think it can be stated enough how much it hurt not to have him Wednesday. I get the fact that it is the players who play the game, but not having a character like Klopas on the sidelines hurts. Thankfully he will be back and gracing NBC on Saturday.
Franco, on the other hand, is now out two games. MLS saw fit to hand him an extra game suspension for his straight red card in the Philly game. This hurts in more ways than one. First of all, he has looked pretty good off the bench, especially against SKC. When the game enters the later stages, and especially if we are behind and needing offense (which we normally do considering our penchant for conceding leads first), Franco is a nice option to have off the bench. While Dom Oduro is another late attacking option, I would prefer the pedigree of Franco in a big situation. Not having that for the next 2 games could really bite us. One other interesting note is a Tweet from Fire Confidential's Guillermo Rivera. He mentioned the other day that Franco was making somewhere in the neighborhood of 187k the rest of this year. That's a lot of money for a handful of games (or less). That was a costly red card indeed.
In the end, I think leaving New York with one point would be a pretty awesome result, given our recent performances. Had we been coming into this game on a win like we all expected, I would be much more confident of a possible 3 points. We are playing a dangerous team with a shaky defense and midfield. I have all the confidence that the players and Frank Klopas himself will get this team up and motivated for the match. I personally think the team will play much better and look more like the Fire team we all know. Despite that happening, it's going to be a tough go at Red Bull Arena. We don't always play well there, and a result will be huge for the standings, confidence, and getting back on track so to speak. If this team wants to go far this year, they have to get up, dust off the Philly result, and give New York hell tomorrow. We must be able to get results against good teams in big games on the road. Tomorrow is our chance to start a new run of good play before the playoffs start.
There are only 3 games left, and the road is going to be much tougher if we head into the playoffs limping rather than running in. We will truly see the makeup of this team tomorrow. As I am typing this there are 24 hours to go until kickoff. This game will have huge implications as to what we can expect from this team to end the season. We will find out in 1 day. Here's to hoping we are celebrating a good Fire performance around this time tomorrow. Let's go Fire!