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Ranking the Fire: The warm grey of competence

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Shipp leads the ratings for the Men in Red, whose group ethic on Sunday is honored in this list

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Generally, when one summons the adjective ‘indistinguishable' in the context of a sporting contest, the subtext is negative - these players were a milling mob, lukewarm; a mouth a tepid oatmeal. Today, though, in ranking the performances of the individual Fire players, we are presented with a converse example: There are many indistinguishable performances because, overall, the Chicago Fire played pretty well as a unit on Sunday.

Sure, they only won 1-0; there's a reason the strikers are in the grey. But by putting a reeling, incoherent foe to the sword so thoroughly for 45 minutes - and still not allowing a shot on goal after settling back into an early-season, short-bench defensive crouch after halftime - the Men in Red should feel good about their first win of 2015. It's a six-way tie for sixth, gentlemen; let's see more like this on Saturday, eh?

1.) Harry Shipp - If the Red Bulls game last year was Harry's national coming-out party - and it was, it surely was - then this was Part II. Shipp's growing vision and sense of space between the lines was constantly on evidence Sunday, as was his incredible first touch and catlike quickness on the ball. His service on the goal might've scored untouched, and his mazy dribbling run in the dying minutes not only showed his skill but his improving stamina, evidence of his growth as a second-year player. He's also growing into leadership; if the Fire can keep him, expect Harry to wear the armband in the not-too-distant future.

2.) Mikey Stephens - I know, Adailton scored the goal. But Shipp's multidimensional psychic forays aren't possible without Stephens linking play behind him, balancing the formation and keeping the ball rolling. Finding an American central midfielder who can play the shuttler role and complete 90 percent of his passes is not a small deal, and his willingness to come get the ball under pressure is both opening the field for Shipp and taking heat off of Matt Polster.

3.) Adaílton - I want to fashion Adaílton's composure into a nice lap blanket and wear it on a cold, rainy day whilst I sip tea and read a novel - it's that cozy. So far, he's been the anti-Soumare - unflashy, dependable, unadventurous in a totally reassuring way. The Brazilian's feather touch on the goal was crucial, but just as crucial is his calmness. Yallop's got a point when he mentions the Fire haven't given up much during the run of play recently, and no one is more responsible than Adailton and his utterly mundane aura of simple competence.

4.) Matt Polster - The third member of the midfield triangle deserves a perch above the six sixes. It's hard to tell, at this point, whether what we're seeing is ‘form or quality' - that English duality which asks, "Can you keep this up?" But through four games, Polster has to be on a shortlist for Rookie of the Year. Authoritative, clean, and simple, the SIU-Edwardsville product has backstopped the Fire midfield with range and bite. Someone get him Chris Armas videos STAT; I'm curious what his ceiling is.

5.) Joevin Jones - Here we have another case of ‘form or quality?' Like Polster, Jones has pretty significantly outperformed expectations, first as an attacking wingback and, more recently, as an out-and-out winger. In either position, Jones has displayed a more-refined game than was expected. Could the return of high-priced attacking talent send him back to wingback?

Six-way tie for sixth

From this point forward, the players are in no particular order. The team defensive shape was coherent and consistent, even when Philadelphia started clawing desperately to get back into the game. The offensive approach was less inspired, but still should have yielded a goal more. The world's dark enough, no? Let's talk about those gentlemen in the good, steady grey:

6.) Kennedy Igboananike - There were rumblings leading up to the game that Igbo might be on a short leash, and he's not done anything to eliminate those rumblings after a solid but uninspiring shift Sunday. There are signs that he and the midfield are starting to figure out their timing, particularly the scintillating through-ball Harry Shipp rolled out for him in the 55th. But he didn't finish that chance, and he needs to; the weight of the Designated Player tag is expectation. Despite his indifferent form, worked hard to keep the Union uncomfortable with the ball.

6.) Sean Johnson - Sean shook off a terrible game against San Jose by drinking 14 beers and taking a brief nap just inside the goal. Wait - that's not right. Johnson did commandeer a defense that gave up zero shots on goal. Johnson's elite shot-stopping skills weren't called into play, but he did what there was to do. His distribution was its usual mix of aimless and hilarious.

6.) Quincy Amarikwa - Oh, Quincy. If wanting-to was doing, Quincy would Zlatan. He's fierce and full of fight and, too often, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But as a member of a group of 11 guys making this a difficult 90 minutes for the opposition, his value is obvious.

6.) Jeff Larentowicz - The three defenders at the bottom of this list probably deserve better. True, Philadelphia has serious problems from on the offensive end right now, but the Fire have found ways to give up more to worse in the last couple of years. Sunday, with Big Red looking increasingly comfortable as a centerback, the Fire didn't give up much. One note: Those who yearn for Jeff to return to defensive midfield should notice his reaction to pressure later in the game. MLS has gotten to a point that a midfielder who can't step around simple pressure is a death-knell.

6.) Eric Gehrig - I will contend to the end of my days that Gehrig is no kind of right back; he doesn't have the offensive game to make the space he's left in count, and he doesn't have the athletic range to recover when given space to move into. That said, he's fantastically bright and competitive, and he's done a magnificent job understanding what he can give and striking a balance between risk and reward. It's not a great solution, but Gehrig is giving everything he can to make it work.

6.) Lovel Palmer - Lovel Palmer was the one rock-solid carryover in the Fire defense, so it goes without saying that he's gotta change positions, amirite? Like Gehrig, Palmer's put in a difficult spot, playing out of position, and, like Gehrig, he's trying to make it work. The hope here is that Gehrig and Palmer find continued playing time somewhere closer to their natural positions in the near future.