On a Saturday night in Philadelphia, the Chicago Fire earned a huge 3 points to keep their playoff hopes alive and to keep within 5 points of a playoff spot. To keep things interesting in the Eastern Conference - Montreal lost to D.C. United; New York Red Bulls beat Sporting Kansas City to take over first place; and New England were defeated at home by Toronto FC. Keep muddling it up, Eastern Conference! It just makes it easier for the Fire to get into the playoff mix.
It was a little surprising to see a player get a goal and an assist in a match and not get listed as a key player on the recap at the MLS website. Philly's halftime substitute at left back, Fabinho, who had one key pass and recorded zero (0) defensive statistics, some how made the list over Nyarko.
While Nyarko had a goal and assist in the game, his biggest contribution to the game was on the defensive side of the ball. Here is a fun fact from Saturday: Nyarko won 8 tackles on Saturday while Philadelphia's entire midfield won 7. He also had 4 successful dribbles (out of 6), 7 recoveries, 2 clearances and and interception on top of winning 3 fouls. He was arguably the most influential player on the field Saturday night.
Alex and Larentowicz
Two other influential players on the field were Alex and Jeff Larentowicz. The midfield tandem made it difficult for Philly to keep possession in the center of the field. Larentowicz had 10 recoveries, a tackle and an interception.
Alex, playing alongside Larentowicz, really bossed the midfield. When Alex first arrived here last season, I felt that I remember him as being billed as an attacking midfielder. Since he filled in for Pavel Pardo at the end of last season, he has shown that he's possibly much better on the defensive side of the ball than he is on the offensive side.
Alex covered a lot of ground on Saturday and created a few of turnovers deep in Philly's half of the field. Here is what Alex chalked up in total on Saturday: 4 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 clearances and 8 recoveries.
There was a period of about 15 minutes in the second half where Alex and Larentowicz did not record a single defensive stat. Part of this is due to a sequence of corner kicks and throw-ins the Fire had near Philly's goal that ate up a large chuck of time. But when Philly did have the ball during that 15 minutes, they avoided playing through the center of the field:
See the doughnut on the field?
Dully Duka and Quincy Amarikwa were both brought in in the 67th minute. Neither player recorded any significant stats on the Opta Chalkboard, but both of their presences on the field seemed to give the Fire a second wind. Both players came into the game and showed a lot of fight.
Amarikwa had one key pass in the game which lead to Duka's one shot on goal. Here is what that looked like on the chalkboard:
And here is the highlight of it:
Duka did manage to get 4 recoveries and an interception. Amarikwa also had a tackle and a recovery, both of which were just on the edge of Philly's penatly box.
Amarikwa's tackle and recovery came moments before his shot that Zac MacMath stone walled him on.
The tackle came from Amarikwa knocking the ball away from Amobi Okugo and then the recovery was Amarikwa gaining possession of the loose ball in the penalty box. It's a shame that Amarikwa couldn't put that shot away.
It was disappointing to see the Chicago Fire conceded such an ugly and strange goal on Saturday. Sheanon Williams' goal kind of makes one wonder whether this team is just snake bitten. The defense has been solid in the last two games and played well enough in Philadelphia to get a shutout if it was not for that fluky, rolling back heel from Williams. The team is now at 11 games without a shutout across all competitions and has conceded 31 goals this season, which is 6th most in Major League Soccer.
I feel like the Fire are due to get a shutout soon, but when I look at the month of August and see Montreal, New England (on the road on turf) and Sporting Kansas City I start to feel a little bit of doubt. Maybe the Fire can shutout D.C. United on Wednesday? That would be nice. A shutout against any opponent would be a boon at this point.