Well, this is awkward. The first chalkboard post of the season, and I seem to hit a snafu. I wrote this chalkboard post on Sunday night, and it was getting late by the time I finished the text part, so I decided to put off creating the graphics I wanted to capture and plugging the numbers I wanted to highlight in this post until Monday. Unfortunately, I have been seeing this message since early Monday morning:
I've been worrying about the state of the OPTA Chalkboard ever since MLS rolled out Golazo, and I had to start getting to the Chalkboard by clicking on the iPhone's email trash icon with the text "Old Matchcenter" written next to it:
This is not just happening with the Fire game. It looks like it's happening to every game that had an OPTA Chalkboard attached to it. I tried to see if I could find any announcement or something for an explanation, but I came up empty handed. The optimist inside me says that they are just revamping the chalkboard. The pessimist is telling me that two years in this digital age is ancient and that the chalkboard is obsolete, which means this column might now be defunct. We will see if the OPTA Chalkboard reemerges in the coming weeks or not.
Now that I got that out of the way, below is what I have for this week. I apologize for its incompleteness.
The Battle In The Midfield
As Sean outlined in his recap, there were a number of things that happened on Sunday that were trends last season. One other trend that seems to have carried over from last season is the Fire's inability to play through the middle of the field when the flanks were getting shut down.
Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka did not have good games on Sunday. In the first half, both players struggled mightily to get involved. Nyarko was able to influence the game a bit more in the first half, but Chivas leftback, Tony Lochhead, kept Nyarko under warps. In the second half, Dilly Duka began to get more involved as Nyarko completely disappeared before getting subbed off.
With the wings shut down, the onus fell to the central midfielders, Chris Rolfe and Alex.
Chris Rolfe has also had better games. He completed 17 or 29 passes (not counting corner kicks) for a completion percentage of 59%. The majority of Rolfe's incomplete passes were in the attacking third where he was 1 for 6. His lone completed pass in the attacking third was a backpass. Rolfe also had one shot off target.
Hands down the best midfielder in the game was Alex, which is not saying much. Alex completed 23 of 31 passes along with a key pass and a shot that lead to Benji Joya's goal. He also helped set up Rolfe's muffed opportunity with a a clever little flick on.
The biggest problem Alex had was being dispossessed. Alex seems insistent on out running or dribbling around opponents. Sometimes he would win a foul for his troubles (he got 3 on Sunday), other times he would just lose the ball and stagnate the attack (he was dispossessed 4 times).
Love Me Some Lovel
Lovel Palmer was unable to stop the cross that lead to the second Chivas goal, which was a pretty big blemish. In Lovel's defense, he had a lot to deal with on Sunday and did a pretty solid job defensively. Unfortunately, this was an area I skipped writing on Sunday night because I was just going to list off a bunch of stats. Trust me, Lovel really put up some impressive numbers. He had something like 5 tackles won along with a bunch of recoveries, clearances and blocked crosses. It was impressive, but I can't back it up.
Mauro Rosales is a very bad man. I recall Seattle Sounder fans bragging about how many goals they scored off set pieces last season. I'm pretty sure Rosales had a hand (or, more accurately, a foot) in that. On Sunday, the Fire had their hands full with Mauro on set pieces. While Mauro gave Fire fans a bit of a scare off a free kick in the first half, Mauro did the majority of his damage on corner kicks.
Mauro took nine of the ten corner kicks that the Fire conceded on Sunday. One of the reasons the Fire conceded so many corners was because Mauro was consistently dropping his corner kicks right in to the danger area right in front of goal. The Fire conceded seven corners from the run of play, but Chivas earned another three corner kicks because the Fire struggled to clear the ball. Mauro finished the game with two key passes off of corner kicks along with an assist on the game winning goal.
The swap of Quincy Amarikwa for Juan Luis Anangonó instantly sparked something in the team. On the possession interval chart in Matchcenter, the Fire only held more than 50% of possession in 3 of the 11 of the intervals prior to Amarikwa. Immediately after Amarikwa entered the game, the Fire controlled possession for the next three straight intervals by 78%, 57% and 56%. After those 15 minutes of controlling possession, the Fire's possession dropped back down to about the norm for the remainder of the game.
Benji Joya's introduction in to the game was also a positive move as he pounced on a rebound and scored the first goal of his MLS career and of the Fire's season. Benji also had a pretty good shot on goal that dipped and gave Dan Kennedy a bit of trouble. Unfortunately, Benji also committed 3 fouls in the final 15 minutes, one or two of which were not totally necessary.
The final substitution was Logan Pause, which did not make many fans happy because it sent the signal that the Fire were settling for a point. If Frank Yallop wanted to kill off the game, then Logan was his man*. The best way to kill off a game is to not give the ball away, and that is what Logan is best at. He completed 10 of his 11 passes (I think). His only incomplete pass was the throw-in he took as the final whistle blew. Up until the time Logan entered the game, the Fire were only completing about 70% of their passes. After Logan came off the bench, the Fire completed 73% of their passes. An increase of 3% is small, but it is better than nothing.
I agree with Yallop playing for the draw. It is the first game of a two game road trip to open the season, and the Fire had just came back from a two goal deficit. With a draw, the team would be disappointed but feeling good about how they fought back. Having positive momentum heading into Portland next weekend would have been nice. Unfortunately, that corner kick in the 88th minute ruined it. Subbing on Logan Pause is not to blame for the late goal. Mauro Rosales is a very bad man.
*At least Yallop didn't sub out Chris Rolfe for Patrick Ianni like some coaches might have done.