Blue Hell was just hell Sunday for the Fire and Sporting Kansas City.
The weather was sweltering hot in Kansas City. I mean it was the kind of weather that would have Robbie Keane self-censoring his cursing on Twitter because of how much he hates the sun and all of the heat it brings.
Both teams showed the toll the weather took as each side took a chance missing golden opportunities, committing sloppy turnovers and lacking pace they may otherwise possess. The game was no work of art, though the first half was certainly more entertaining than the second as legs were fresh enough to make dangerous runs.
It was likely hell off the pitch for both teams too, as Sporting Kansas City will surely see a draw at home against the cellar-dwelling Fire as a disappointment, while the Fire will go home with a mind-boggling 10th draw on the year and a wasted chance to gain some huge momentum heading into a short turnaround against the Atlanta Silverbacks on Wednesday.
But before then, let's take a look at the best and worst performances of Sunday's match.
XI: Sean Johnson – The Milkman usually finds himself right near the top of these rankings and he was head and shoulders above his teammates Sunday. Johnson made eight saves on the day including a great scramble right at the end of the game to preserve a 1-1 tie. A few crosses just out of the reach of Sporting men probably saved Johnson from grabbing the ball out of the back of the net a couple more times, but he was positioned well all game and earned the good fortune.
X: Alex – Alex is one of the most inconsistent players on the roster but he had a good showing at Kansas City. He did lose the ball in some dangerous areas, but he also showed initiative all game and was one of the few players who pushed forward. He was crucial in Mike Magee's goal, winning the ball after a poor long ball from Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was easily captured by Sporting. Alex then made the pass to Magee who found the back of the net. Yallop also did Alex a favor by pulling him out of the game so he wasn't part of the dreadful second half.
IX: Chris Ritter – Each and every game it seems Ritter has improved and that's all we can ask of a young, developing player. He was one of two players on the field who looked comfortable in maintaining possession. He did have some bad first touches that gave SKC the ball back in midfield, but overall he showed composure in a tough environment and a glimpse of what he could become moving forward.
VIII: Mike Magee – The goal scorer generally would be ranked higher but Magee is held to higher standards and he holds himself to higher standards. He did a great job in the first half of creating chances, but league MVPs and national team call-ups need to convert those chances. Magee should have had a brace and probably a hat trick, but his hesitation was costly. Still, without the captain the Fire would have walked away as 1-0 losers.
VII: Harry Shipp – Whether it was the heat, the atmosphere or the condensed schedule, Shipp just did not look as sharp on Sunday. He did very well to draw fouls time and time again on SKC, which led to free kick opportunities for the Fire. The problem is Shipp's usual exquisite free kicks were lackluster and the chances were wasted. He was still creative, still effective, but like Magee failed to find that final touch he needed. Shipp did find an unmarked Patrick Ianni on a corner, but that was about it for good service.
VI: Gonzalo Segares – He had difficult assignments throughout the game including handling the club hero Graham Zusi who came on in the second half. The majority of the crosses were delivered from Segares' side of the field, but the Costa Rican was still the most solid of the back four. He was calm in handling the ball and in his clearances. He challenged, even if it was somewhat conservatively, most crosses and runs attempted on his side.
V: Lovel Palmer – Like Segares, Palmer had rough spots but was certainly more solid than his center back friends. There were fewer attacks on his side and when the Fire regained the ball or cleared chances, they rarely looked the Jamaicans way. He did not have the chance to get involved in the offense as much as we've seen in the past.
IV: Grant Ward – One reason Palmer was so quiet was because of Ward's disappearance. The Tottenham product was barely noticeable, barely touching the ball on the right side before switching to the left to give Alex a shot on the right. Thank goodness the switch was made because I am not sure Ward would have made the play Alex did on the Magee goal considering the form Ward was in Sunday.
III: Logan Pause – He brought very little to the game. The longtime Fire man could not control the midfield or gain possession again Benny Feilhaber and company who had their way. He needed to make sliding challenges once again where a more fleet footed and aware midfielder likely would have been able to close down without needing to fly in. Sadly it appears there is no role or position for Pause on the pitch at this point in his career.
II: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – Hurtado only avoids the basement in the ranking because he did not make the fatal flaw. He was awful this game though, there is no doubt about it. For the first 20 minutes, almost every single mistake the team made was a direct or indirect result of Hurtado's play. From being out of position on the Dom Dwyer goal (along with Ianni and Palmer) to committing a horrendous turnover that required a massive save from Johnson, Hurtado was just bad. He has shown the ability to play better and hopefully he has a bounce back performance.
I: Patrick Ianni – There is no excuse for the touch and turnover he committed in the first half that led to Dwyer's goal. While he may have been slightly better from that point forward than Hurtado, the mistake was egregious enough for the worst ranking. Like Hurtado, Ianni has had some good performances this year, but when they go bad, they go really bad.
Best: Bakary Soumare – The polarizing center back was far better than the starters and helped curb an absolute onslaught in the second half. The Fire had nothing going in the half save for two chances from a Shipp-Duka combination. Soumare's presence helped preserve the draw.
Average: Dilly Duka – On one hand, it was great to see Dilly Duka create chances off the bench after being inactive for so long. On the other, his muffed attempt at goal with a left-footed shot was a reminder of why he struggles to find a place in the starting XI. There isn't much offensive spark on the bench right now, but if Duka can bring the strong runs he did Sunday with a better finish, he could be a big boost.
Not Bad: Matt Watson – Watson never brings much excitement to the pitch and he didn't Sunday. He was fine defensively and I think I actually heard his name more than Grant Ward's. He knows his role and did enough Sunday. Guys like Watson will rarely turn one points into three, but hopefully they don't let one point turn into zero either.