Ok everyone, first I want to apologize for the quiet period here on HTIOT lately. With the extra off week things have been pretty slow for the Fire and MLS in general. For us international soccer fans, we have had USMNT WCQ games and Euro 2012 to keep us busy. The good news is that there is finally Fire action again this weekend vs. New York Red Bulls. The Men in Red need to get back on the winning track, and the good news is that reinforcements should be on the way to help. Join me after the break for my musings...
Let's start off with all the USMNT action. The USA notched a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda to kick off WCQ. While this scoreline is certainly not what many of us envisioned, 3 points is 3 points. I get the argument that people are making regarding this game. If we can only beat an inferior team by 2 goals how will we do against the world powers? While I certainly would have liked to see a 5 or 6 goal scoreline, I don't see the need for mass panic. The USA is still prone to playing at the level of their opponents. I mentioned this in my WCQ primer as one of the things we need to take care of to take the team to the next level. That doesn't happen overnight. Although the win can be viewed as "disappointing" by some, we have also beaten Italy and gave Brazil a handful for a half of soccer in recent months.
The main concern I took away from this match was the lack of killer instinct we are sometimes prone to against teams we should beat. We easily could have put in another 2 or 3 goals, and that is something you have to do against inferior competition like that. You let them hang around and then anything can happen. That is what the US needs to guard against in WCQ- becoming complacent and not getting the job done. Look at the Netherlands in Euro 2012. They are a top team in the world and were picked by some to win the whole thing. Instead they have dropped the first 2 matches but are luckily still in contention for moving on because two of the other teams in their group only have 1 point each. Taking wins for granted against worse teams can be deadly and this is something that the USA still needs to work on.
Unfortunately the USA did not do anything to bounce back in a meaningful way against Guatemala. Despite holding a slim 1-0 lead, Guatemala was able to equalize in the form of the Fire's very own Marco Pappa. This set off quite the Twitter debate on club vs. country for USA/Fire fans. While some Fire fans were very happy to see Marco score, those that place the USMNT above all else were not happy to see that. Many fans also wondered why Pappa can't score more goals like that when playing for the Fire. Club vs. Country is a debate for another day and on my docket for an upcoming HTIOT piece soon.
Getting back on track, the Guatemala game was pretty lackluster overall. I was hoping the USA would come out and pounce on Guatemala, but they just didn't look quite right. Yes, we did get a point out of the match and sit atop our group at 4 points total. Fortunately we are in an easy group so shouldn't have any problem advancing. However, as I have mentioned, that line of thinking can also get us in trouble. If we can notch 3 points against Jamaica on September 11th, that should pretty much put us through. We are going to have to play better, Jamaica should present us with our stiffest test of the group in my opinion. A good performance and a solid win should go a long way in building a bit of confidence back up.
Let's move on to the Fire for a bit. It seems like it has been eons since they have played a match. To refresh your memory, the last time the Fire played on June 2nd, we dropped a disappointing 2-0 decision to New England. Combine that with losses to Columbus and a shocking crash-and-burn out of the USOC proper, and the Fire headed into a 2 week break in poor form. Needless to say that doesn't sit well with anyone in Fire country. I am sure the players are chomping at the bit to get back into action as well.
NYRB will be a tough test for us. They score a lot of goals, and our shaky back line is really worrisome to me. they have multiple players who can score, Henry and Cooper being the main threats. Although their defense started out shaky, they have buckled down, as has young goalkeeper Ryan Meara. They have been in fine form recently, with a run of form showing W-W-W-W-T in their last 5. The Fire will have a tall task against a good team.
Fortunately, reinforcements should be on the way. Although it sounds like Arne Friedrich and Chris Rolfe will be a bit questionable to start on Sunday, they should both be able to play hopefully. Friedrich will be a huge help to a young and learning backline that is struggling. Rolfe will be a sorely needed scoring threat to help out Dominic Oduro. It would be great for one or both players to be able to start. If not, even a good chunk of time played will help out greatly. The Fire have a chance to make a statement with this game against a good team. A win would definitely do that, especially since we will be at home and hopefully in front of a packed house.
We should have a lot of content hitting the site this weekend with our normal 3 questions, match preview, and gamethread. We hope you join us this weekend when our Men in Red finally get to play an MLS match again!