I can't remember the last time a Chicago Fire loss stung as much as Saturday's did.
The regular season finale against New York was tough last year because it shut down the playoff chances for Chicago, but it was a route. Saturday we saw the Fire show the potential they have with beautiful counter attacking keeping one of the best teams in the MLS at bay and on the run.
A 2-0 lead and growing confidence was all thrown away as Real Salt Lake slowly broke down the Fire in the second half before an avalanche of awfulness swept over Toyota Park in the final 10 minutes or so. It is the kind of loss that can break a team for the rest of the year.
Fans will get a first real glimpse of the kind of leadership Frank Yallop brings to the table. Will he have the squad competitive and hungry in New York this weekend or will the team come out flat, still looking the wounds Joao Plata and friends inflicted upon the team.
While we're all eager to move on, there is still a need to look at how individual players did Saturday.
I decided to go with a different kind of format for my rankings to add a little fun to the common practice. Instead of assigning numbers showing how well someone played, I forced myself to do a Starting XI style format. Each player is ranked from best to worst, meaning no two players can get the same ranking even if they played at a similar level.
Again, I am in no way the smartest soccer fan around so these are just my thoughts after an initial viewing. I'd be curious to see how you all rank your XI as well, so feel free to share.
XI: Sean Johnson – The Fire would not have had the opportunity to blow a 2-0 lead late in the game had it not been for the spectacular saves of Sean Johnson. The Milk Man made some huge denials, one against Joao Plata in the first half that was the sort of save that had fans and I would assume his teammates thinking tonight is our night. Sadly his support crumbled in front of him as time went on and he was overwhelmed. Three goals was an unfair number for the goalkeeper.
X: Mike Magee – Arguably his best performance of the year. Like the entire team, Magee did not have the ball much but he created a lot of positive action. He had a vintage Magee goal to get the scoring going when he crashed the net after Rimando deflected a Harry Shipp shot. Magee flicked the rebound in and left the defense in his wake as he does so well. Magee also lobbed a beautiful ball into the box and onto the leg of Anangono who missed wide right. He ended his impressive run of play with a shot off the cross bar before being subbed out. An assist and second goal were right there for the Magic Man.
IX: Benji Joya – Considering Joya does not start as often as many of his teammates, his performance stood out even more. He looked comfortable against one of the best midfields in the league, willing to play on the counter. He had a hand in both goals, dishing a pass from Patrick Nyarko to a wide open Shipp at the top of the box which led to Magee's goal and then another pass to Greg Cochrane who floated a cross to Anangono for a goal.
VIII: Patrick Nyarko – Had Benji Joya not had a direct hand in both goals, I think Nyarko would have been ranked a spot higher. He did pretty much everything he was supposed to in this game. While he still struggles to complete as many passes and crosses many fans would like to see, he almost always makes an important one and he did so again when he shook the defense down the sideline and start the goal sequence for Magee. He hustled the whole time box-to-box and helped negate some of Plata's dangerous speed. I wish my pre-game prediction of Nyarko being subbed out at the 60th minute no matter how he was performing did not come true. When he came off, the onslaught really kicked into gear.
VII: Harrison Shipp – Obviously a great shot on goal to start the scoring and generally heady and hustling throughout. Joya is clearly at home in the central midfield and I think Shipp is too as he likes to pinch in and let Cochrane run out on the flank. But with Shipp and Joya in the middle looking to do the same thing, they didn't seem to have the chemistry and connection at times. Shipp disappeared at times, but can't be ranked too low as he was vital in starting the team off well.
VI: Lovel Palmer – He did not have the same egregious errors the rest of his back line partners had and showed offensive initiative as he normally does. He partnered well with Nyarko as the two teamed up to recover for each other when needed. He still can be careless with the ball but shuts down space more consistently compared to his partners.
V: Jeff Larentowicz – His numbers were pretty good and he played it safe. I understand that is his job but as captain of the team I still want to see him be more assertive in both his play and leadership. Too many of his passes still look to just move the ball laterally in his own zone, more or less putting the pressure of advancing the ball on one of his teammates. He has some responsibility in organizing the defense as well and just couldn't make the needed adjustments in the second half.
IV: Juan Luis Anagono – He scored a goal which is the only way he gets ranked ahead of Greg Cochrane here and I am not sure even that should be enough. He missed a great chance on a pass from Magee, lost the ball too often and was rendered useless in the second half. I'm not cheering for the guy to play poorly, but it is hard for anyone to defend him at this point. It's hard not to wonder if the story would have been different with a more aggressive, ball possessing forward like Quincy Amarikwa in the game. We might be talking about the first win.
III: Greg Cochrane – I know I'm harder on Cochrane than most and this just makes me look like I have something out for him but I really wanted to give him a better rank. He looked fantastic in the first half, getting forward delivering crosses including the assist to Anangono and recovering well including a key step in on Saborio when Palmer was caught in a bad position. But he made some bad mistakes on a couple conceded goals and there is just no way around it. I've come on board with Cochrane as the top choice over Segares, but he is going to go through growing pains and those momentary judgement lapses really hurt his overall rank Saturday.
II: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – Take your pick between Hurtado and Bakary Soumare. Center back is arguably the toughest position on the pitch and will always be susceptible to criticism but these two earned it Saturday. They gave miles of space in the middle during build ups and failed to communicate on too many chances. Hurtado gets the slight rank ahead only because he doesn't stop playing or give up on plays like Soumare seems to do too often.
I: Bakary Soumare – See above.
Matt Watson – He was awful. He came on to shore up defense and bring some stability and did neither. It was right about when he came on that the game started to spin out of control.
Victor Pineda – He wasn't on long but he gave up big time space to Saborio on the game winner. So not good either.
Tell me if you like the format and share your thoughts. Yell at me for being mean to Cochrane or too nice to Palmer or something!