The best thing about Wednesday's midweek tilt with the Vancouver Whitecaps is that it did not end in a 5-1 drubbing. Everything else was pretty forgettable.
Midweek games seem to be a necessary evil at this point. Rarely are the games aesthetically pleasing and often coaches seem to have one eye on the pitch and another on the weekend game awaiting. That seemed to be the case with Vancouver Wednesday.
The Fire, on the other hand, seemed to go for it, especially at the end. Being the home team and a side caught in a mire of draws, the Fire had more pressure to leave the pitch with 3 points. Try as they might against a hapless and unmotivated Whitecap side, they could not find the back of the net.
It was another frustrating performance but at least Yallop gave something new for the fans to look at, which leads me to my man of the match ...
XI: Jeff Larentowicz – The captain took the helm of the defense as a centerback Wednesday and played wonderfully. He looked comfortable with Patrick Ianni as a partner and kept the whole back line organized. He locked down one of the fastest players in the league in Darren Mattocks and gave Sean Johnson a mostly easy night. I like Big Red when he can focus on strictly defending and not having to try to spark an attack like he does in the pivot. It's also helpful that when he does make an aggressive challenge, he is not as intimidating as Bakary Soumare. As unfair as it may be, even the difference in appearance will keep refs from blowing whistles so often.
X: Sean Johnson – Again, he wasn't tested often but his save on Erik Hurtado was a difference maker. Johnson was incredibly poised as Hurtado charged all alone past a a trailing Gonzalo Segares. The Milkman made himself big and delivered a kick save to keep the clean sheet. Directly tested or not, goalkeepers always play an important role in the organization necessary to keep a clean sheet.
IX: Matt Watson – Watson remains the most mercurial player on the team and decided he would be hot rather than cold Wednesday. Simply put, a Matt Watson/Chris Ritter midfield should be run over by a trio of Pedro Morales, Mattocks and Hurtado. But they weren't. Watson was all over the field in the right positions to lock down Vancouver's offense and even got involved in the precious few offensive chances, roaming up as far as the 18-yard box. Perhaps Larentowicz's move to centerback gives Watson the chance to shine at defensive mid? Time will tell.
VIII: Patrick Ianni – There were not a whole lot of moments for Ianni in the game and that is good. By nature, the less you remember about a centerback's performance, generally the better. He made no egregious errors and was in spots that clearly made it difficult for Vancouver to find any meaningful runs into the box. He did send one of the few long balls down field that connected late in the second half, which could have led to a goal. Hopefully he pairs up with Big Red again Saturday.
VII: Quincy Amarikwa – I really want to be mad at him for the chance he missed late in the game with only the goal keeper to beat. Money strikers convert that. But his effort and competitiveness will always make it hard for him to fall too far in these rankings. The Fire had an extremely hard time getting the ball in the final third and without Quincy, they may have created no chances. Still the hardest working player out there.
VI: Lovel Palmer – The whole back line played pretty well and Palmer was no different. Palmer is tasked with more offensive responsibility in Yallop's offense and failed to do much in that way Wednesday, but what separated him from Segares was his ability to keep his flank clean of chances consistently.
V: Chris Ritter – The kid had a tough task looking at Pedro Morales on the other side and kept his composure. Unlike Watson though, he was unable to get the ball moving after doing well defensively. He is still growing in the role and looks like he could be a very good holding midfielder for years to come if he keeps building off each performance.
IV: Mike Magee – The Magic Man actually did very well taking free kicks and corner kicks. What he didn't do well? Creating chances. Magee found himself deep in the midfield once again trying to help out and that took him out of the game from a goal scoring/creating standpoint. I say it every week but something needs to change tactically in his role or he needs a wake up call. I think he'd be the first to say he needs to do more, but talk is cheap at this point in the year.
III: Gonzalo Segares – He probably had a better game than this ranking indicates, but when the other three on the back line play as well as they did he stands out. Hurtado is tough to lock down all game and he did get the better of Segares a few times. Johnson bailed him out though and all was forgiven.
II: Grant Ward – This is where the truly poor performances begin. When Ritter and Watson are roaming deep in the midfield, it is clear the outside mids are tasked with creating offense. It's not all on Ward and Alex as the team seemed to be content bypassing the midfield all together at times. But when Ward did get the ball, he was dispossessed easily on a number of occasions and failed to create much of anything.
I: Alex – Ward can get a pass to an extent because he is a kid still learning his trade. Alex knows how to be better and needs to be better. The old dribble/pass into the abyss thing he does from time to time showed up again Wednesday. The Brazilian shows the flashes of quality that make me want to believe, but he gets touch-happy too often and becomes his own worst enemy. He needs to be better.
Razvan Cocis – He showed enough to me to where I would consider starting him alongside Watson in the midfield Saturday if Larentowicz stays at centerback. You can tell he is attack minded and considering it was first ever MLS game, you can't ask for much more.
Harry Shipp – Had a hard time getting into the flow of the game but was by no means bad. I fully expect him to slot right back into the Starting XI Saturday.
Matt Fondy – I'm already done with him. Let's be honest, Amarikwa and Magee are the only two strikers on this team presently.