Hot Time writers Jeff Engelhardt and Ryan Voyles were at Toyota Park Saturday to witness the ... ugh ... sadness of the Fire's 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake. Here are their takes on the game.
What the Fire suffered Saturday at Toyota Park could be described as a Real-ly bad loss for a team that looked like it was poised to turn a corner.
No one enjoyed falling 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City on the road last week, but that loss came in a tough venue and off a three-game win streak. The team still managed to create chances and it seemed a manageable loss knowing a struggling Real Salt Lake team was coming into Toyota Park on a double-game week where fatigue could be a factor.
But the Fire reverted to early season form for too many stretches during the game and gave up two goals despite only two shots on goal from RSL. And despite outnumbering RSL 12 to 1 on corners, the Fire could find no finish from open play all game long.
So let’s get to it.
Jeff: For me, I saw two teams going through a pretty sloppy feeling out period in the first 10 to 15 minutes. Quincy Amarikwa teased some speed and the Fire managed some half chances, but there was some sloppy play as well, including a loose pass from Matt Polster that led to some confusion in the back before Joevin Jones swooped in to clean up. It was the first play of what would be a sterling game for Jones, who was by far the brightest spot on the team. Those first 15 minutes also featured a disinterested looking Guly do Prado who had a terrible first touch on his literal first touch of the game, which led to a turnover. But Ryan has some other thoughts on what he saw from do Prado as the first half progressed.
Ryan: For all the (deserving) flack he receives, I thought do Prado showed some flashes and looked much more comfortable than he has in previous matches. His burst down the right side early in the 2nd half provided the Fire with one of their best scoring opportunities in the game. Of course, this is not advocating for more do Prado, and I was one of many to nod in approval as he was subbed off by Igboananike in the 58’ minute. Speaking of, it seemed the Fire’s offense really came alive once Igbo came on the field, and he and Jones seemed to develop some real chemistry to crate deadly chances in the final third, especially one cross from Jones to Igbo in the later second half that forced a great save from Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando.
Jeff: Agreed on the spark the team got with Igboananike, but let’s get back to that first half. If you want to know what a burst looks like, watch Jordan Allen, Real’s best player on the day. He broke free down the left side of the Fire’s defense to send in a perfect low cross to Alvaro Saborio who had an embarrassing amount of room and time at the top of the box. Saborio shot it to the low right side to beat Sean Johnson in the 13th minute. Saborio also had a fantastic effort later in the game that went off the post but was called offside anyway. The point is though, that Allen is the kind of player whose effort turns into results. He assisted on both Salt Lake goals and was an absolute nuisance on defense. Much more effective than do Prado’s "effort" today. That Saborio goal also takes me to my disappointment with Adailton in this game, who was caught on the backside of his man during both goals.
Ryan: Disappointment is the prevailing theme of Saturday’s match, especially with how much the Fire seemed to control the tempo throughout the day. The Fire had the advantage on shots (14-5), shots on goal (3-2), corner kicks (12-1) and possession (55.7%-44.3%), yet they had no answer for the calm and collected Salt Lake counter-attack. There was a sinking feeling throughout Toyota Park as the Fire spent the final 30 minutes chasing for the two goals to draw, especially with Rimando looking his usual stellar self in goal. An 88th minute penalty kick goal from Jeff Larentowicz perked up optimism, but the Fire once again leave a match looking for some answers in the final third.
Jeff: Let’s talk about why the Fire had to chase two goals. In the second half, it was more of the same from Allen who annoyed the left side of the Fire’s defense. The Men in Red were pressuring the ball but had a hard time forcing the turnover. Allen picked out a lurking Sandoval, who timed a quick and short run perfectly, beating Adailton. The space allowed him to pass the ball across the box pass a lunging Sean Johnson and sliding Joevin Jones. Luke Mulholland had to slide himself to reach the pass, but struck an absolute perfect ball top shelf to give RSL the 2-0 lead in 56th minute.
After that point the Fire put on more pressure, especially when Igboananike came in for do Prado. Jones sent in a perfect cross to the feet of Igboananike who did everything you could ask for but was denied by an amazing save from Rimando. Jones would strike again a few minutes later, this time going for goal himself, but again Rimando turned it away with a leaping one handed parry. The urgency the Fire showed in the last 20 minutes is how they need to attack more often. They were far too conservative with 55 percent possession.
For my closing thoughts, I’d like to touch on Shaun Maloney. He took a bit of criticism for this game, and some of it is certainly deserved. But I thought he took some really solid corners, including one in the first half that hit the foot of Lovel Palmer so perfectly I was amazed our favorite Jamaican missed the net. Of course it would be great if Maloney was Sebastian Giovinco, but it would also be great if some Fire players made a run to back post when he is consistently crossing to that area.
Take this recap home Ryan.
Ryan: I’ll agree with you on Maloney delivering some good corners throughout the match, and he was the one to draw the penalty kick (though it seemed more a sloppy challenge by Elisas Vasquez than anything Maloney did to earn the kick). This match showed just how important David Accam has become to this team. With the Ghanian serving a one-match suspension, few players outside of Jones were able to bring that mix of field awareness and burner speed to the offense. With only seven goals in eight matches, it’s time for someone to step up in the absence of Magee and Nyarko. With his effort Saturday, it may be time for Yallop to give Igbo another shot in the starting XI - he could not be much worse than do Prado or Quincy Amarikwa.
Tune in next time as the Fire take on NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 6 p.m.