The Fire started off the match in the hole courtesy of an 11th minute goal from Nicki Patterson. One of the things I am wanting to see improvement on this year is not always having to play from behind as we did last year. While we have already had to come back a couple of times this pre-season, the Men in Red consistently show they are not fazed playing from behind. And last night at Blackbaud Stadium the Fire yet again produced a win by fighting back.
After a back and forth affair in the first half with both teams threatening, the Fire would find an equalizer via Austin Berry. Yep, the defender is still showing a penchant for scoring goals, and that's a great thing heading into the season. Berry can find the net when he wants to, as his 3 goals in 2012 MLS play demonstrate. Wednesday night was no different. One half of the A-Team would find the equalizer in the 28th minute. Joel Lindpere sent a free kick into the box, and Austin absolutely dominated his defender in the air as he usually does. His header put the Fire on even footing at 1-1.
It could have easily been 2-1 as Dilly Duka continued his fine form so far this pre-season by rattling a shot off the post in the 38th minute. From what I have seen from Dilly, we are looking at our starting left winger. It would seem that whatever baggage accumulated in Columbus has been left behind. I think it truly is a case of both parties needing new scenes. Dilly has certainly taken advantage of his move to the Fire thus far. And he was able to leave Columbus, Ohio. That's a win, win right?
After a rash of subs in the second half, it was more back and forth play by both teams. Just as time was winding down, Alex would throw on his Batman cape (yes Batman because I really don't like Superman all that much) and bring the Fire a victory. Alex was out on the left, a good distance outside the box (I would say around 25 yards, maybe even a bit more). He hit a swerving, right to left laser that ended up in the far right hand corner of the net. There was nothing the Battery keeper could do other than watch as the ball sailed in the net. I instantly jumped off the coach, yelling some colorful and most likely inarticulate celebration words, scaring the wife and dog in the process. It truly was a beautiful goal and I will link it up here on HTIOT if the replay becomes available.
Another thing I must say is how Alex handled it. While it is only pre-season, had I scored that goal I would have been running around like a madman. Alex on the other hand, acted like he had done it a thousand times before. His lack of reaction actually caused me to do a double take to make sure the goal counted. He simply turned around and started walking to the center of the pitch. That, my friends, was impressive to me. And that was also the end of the game and another Fire win.
The Men in Red will finish off the pre-season vs. Vancouver in their final matchup of the CCC at 4 PM CST. It's going to be great when the regular season starts and we are able to offer full coverage again rather than relying on a 3rd party stream to get by. Still, something is better than nothing i guess.
Frank Klopas talked about having mental toughness and a sense of urgency from the opening whistle after the game. He is working with the team about conceding early goals, and as the season goes by let's all hope that last year's trend, as I mentioned earlier, starts going away. For now, the Men in Red continue to battle and find results despite falling into the hole early in games.
One other thing to keep in mind is Alex's status. With all of the new additions and his dwindling playing time last year, he hasn't been talked about a whole lot so far this season. While some talk centered around him being on the left wing, it would appear that is Duka's spot to lose. While Alex can play there, we all know his ideal position is in the center of the pitch. And last night we saw him pushing up even more, almost in a withdrawn striker role at times. And, I must say he looked good in that role. While most of us have worried about where all the goals will come from, it's possible Alex could help with that this year.
I usually think of him in the CAM role, which he could still be in this season. However, depending on where Lindpere plays (and what we need for 2nd half subs), Alex looks to be making an argument for consideration up top now too. That is some nice added depth to have. He scored in the reserve match too, and just like Yazid Atouba his fine play is great for all parties. He is making it hard to be ignored, and really giving Frank some positional headaches it would seem. This is a very good problem to have. From starting last year with little depth and many questions marks, to almost having too many players in many spots is a luxury many teams don't have.
I am really, really bullish on this team right now. The newcomers seem to be settling in seamlessly, and many players that were considered to be "fringe players" are also rolling up the sleeves and helping out. Right now, we have quite a few dangerous pieces on the pitch at any one time. And that's something you can't really gameplan for as long as contributions continue to come from multiple directions. The depth on the team is really building, and we have looked pretty good so far this year considering the pre-season isn't over yet. Now if we can just work on getting more leads and then letting our defense do their fine, shut down work...
All in all, the new season is only 10 short days away and it will feature a Fire team heading into a new campaign firing on almost all cylinders. You can't ask for much more right now. Keep up the good work boys!
Courtesy of the official Fire site, a short highlight video is up. Although the camera is far away for the first two goals, Alex and his masterpiece goal can be seen much better. Enjoy.