Friday night was supposed to be a fresh start for the Chicago Fire.
It was supposed to be the night that the memories of an abysmal 2014 season were forgotten.
It was supposed to be the night that Yallop's team gave all of Fire nation hope for 2015.
It wasn't anything it was supposed to be.
When the Fire took on the Galaxy Friday night, it looked like a repeat of 2014. It looked like little if any progress was made during the off season. Goals from Jose Villarreal and Robbie Keane sealed the listless Fire's fate to yet another opening day loss in southern California.
Instead of doing individual player rankings I'm going to change it up and talk about the units as a group. There was really nothing positive to gain - except possibly a huge amount of aggravation - from looking too closely at individuals on Friday night.
Goalkeeper (5/10): Sean Johnson did what he was supposed to do. I don't think anyone can fault him for either goal. Almost created a goal for LA when he palmed a Villarreal free kick into the path of Stefan Ishizaki who fortunately put it wide. Three saves total on the night, and I'm sure he will be solid as the season continues.
Defense (3/10): Yallop went with Joevin Jones, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz, and Lovel Palmer in the back line for the season opener. They were able to keep a clean sheet during the first half, but were very fortunate that LA was not able to finish their easy chances. Villarreal, Ishizaki, and Zardes all had chances to easily put the ball in the net but failed to do so. The second half is when the defense truly showed its frailties. Jones was tormented by Ishizaki all game, and that is where the first goal came from. Ishizaki crossed it in; what looked like a routine clearance from Larentowicz hit Palmer, and the ball dropped to Villarreal who calmly put it in past Johnson. To me it seemed as though there was no communication in the backline as Palmer got too close to Larentowicz causing the error. The second goal was a mental lapse, as Larentowicz got caught ball-watching and lost Keane just as Gonzalez sent in a long ball towards Husidic, who was marked by Gerhig. Husidic was able to get a head on the ball, which allowed Keane to do what an MVP making "Keane money" does, and that is score. The lapses and lack of communication has to change if the Fire's defense wants to improve.
Midfield (2/10): Yallop played Chris Ritter, Matt Watson, Harry Shipp, and new No. 10 Shaun Maloney in midfield to start the game, and I'm still waiting for them to show up. There were stretches of the match when LA's midfield dominated every facet. They were winning the 50-50 balls, they were pressing high forcing turnovers or back passes, and they were able to easily pass the ball out of the back to generate attacking chances. Our midfield was nonexistent and the gulf in class was apparent as the match went on. Shipp had one chance in the first half off of a turnover that he eventually shot wide. Ritter was playing aggressively and avoided being carded before being replaced by rookie Matt Polster who fared no better in the holding role. Watson seemed to be lost at times and was hardly involved going forward until he was replaced by Michael Stephens who, like Polster, was not any better. The last piece to Yallop's puzzle, Maloney, was invisible at times and could not take control of the game and create offensive chances. LA has more quality than the Fire but more than that it seemed as though Bruce Arena outcoached Frank Yallop in the middle of the field as our mids were able to do nothing offensively versus the defending champs.
Forwards (3/10): Yallop started the game with Quincy Amarikwa and Kennedy Igboananike up top and like the midfield, they were also nonexistent at times. Amarikwa did put in his normal high-work-rate shift, and arguably could've drawn a penalty call versus Robbie Rogers but the ref did not see an infraction. The second of the new DPs to debut Friday, Igboananike was also invisible at times on the field. I don't know if it was nerves or if LA's game plan just took him out of the match completely as he was unable to make any positive impact going forward. Igboananike was eventually replaced by Guly do Prado whose only impact on the game was a 75th-minute yellow card.
Bottom line: Friday night's match versus the defending champion Galaxy was intended to show how much the Fire improved since 2014, the worst season in Fire history. It did the opposite. Fire supporters now see how much more has to be done in order to compete with the big boys in the league.
If the Fire want to achieve their "lofty" goal of just making the playoffs, repeats of this kind of performance will not be good enough. Now there will be those who will say "Give them a few games so that the team can gel and learn how to play together". You know, that may be the case; but I will end by asking: If that is the case, then what was the preseason for?