A win versus a Western Conference opponent for the first time this season? Check. A win versus a team that the Fire has never beaten? Check. Three points closer to the lofty goal of making the playoffs? Check. The Fire ticked all of those boxes with Saturday's win against Seattle Sounders at an energetic and nearly-filled Toyota Park.
The game went back and forth most of the night with each team sharing the possession - but, as shown by the Fire creating more chances and taking more shots, the home side had the better of it where it mattered the most. Seattle had several chances in the first half, but the Fire left it until it was late in the second half to go for it. Their surge started with Harry Shipp, who stepped to the inside and took a shot that missed by inches at the far post in the 59th. Then substitute Guly Do Prado had two marvelous chances, one from a through ball in which he miscontrolled off his chest, the other chance a header from inside the box that he was unable to get any power on ... more on Do Prado a little later.
In injury time, the Men in Red gave the faithful something to celebrate. As a Sounders free kick was put into the Fire 18 yard box, it was cleared to Harry Shipp, who found Mike Stephens breaking down the wing. Stephens then slotted a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Jason Johnson who took the ball towards the Seattle box. Johnson sized up an on rushing Chad Marshall, took one step around him, and calmly slotted the ball into the far-side netting in the 92nd minute for the eventual winner.
This win is something that this team desperately needs to build off of as they head to a home and home versus the Columbus Crew. It is now up to Yallop and company to get this team ready for the rest of this crucial stretch of games that happens over the next couple of weeks.
View from the skyway; let's talk stars
Sitting in the Skyway watching the game (as I do) gives a wide perspective of the field and the movement of both teams. From that vantage, two Fire players stood out as beasts the entire 90 minutes. My beasts of the game are Razvan Cocis and Matt Polster. Both players were crucial to disrupting the Seattle attack from the center of the park. Every time a Seattle midfielder received the ball in the center of midfield either Polster or Cocis were immediately on them chipping away at their ankles forcing the ball to be played backwards and stunting the Seattle attack. Just to be able to say that Polster and Cocis kept Gonzalo Pineda and Ozzie Alonso quiet most the match is something that most other MLS midfields cannot brag about.
Welcome back, vets: My next two stars of the night are Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko. It is nice to see both of them on the field making a positive impact. Nyarko's work rate is unmatched as he caused havoc on the right side as well as tracking back efficiently to do his part on the defensive side of the ball. Just the presence of Magee on the field had positive impacts on the other attacking players. His intelligent runs opened space for Kennedy Igboananike, Nyarko, and Shipp as his hold up play and passes created chances for the Men in Red. He did miss a glorious chance in front of goal in the opening minutes but hey - can't score 'em all.
Welcome to MLS, Patrick Doody! The rookie Homegrown did all right for his first MLS start. Doody was able to hold his own on the left side; he still had a couple of mistakes, but nothing that really hurt the team's play. To me he was definitely an improvement over Greg Cochrane.
Now the bad: Yes, even when the team looks good and gets a win over a Supporter's Shield contender there has to be some bad. I've been saying it for weeks now; the bad continues to be Guly Do Prado. Yes, he had two chances that should've been put away, but others on the Fire also had chances that should have been put away. The reason I'm calling him out is the way he simply does not hustle.
One play that illustrates is the broken Sounders free kick that led to the Jason Johnson goal. If you watch the replay both Cocis and Guly are near the top of the Fire's 18 yard box. Cocis clears the ball to Shipp, who finds Stephens. But if you watch behind the play, look who is breaking with the play - I'll give you a hint, it wasn't Guly. It's right there on the replay: Cocis is the one going into the attack, and at one point starts sprinting as Johnson gets closer to the Sounders box. As Johnson slots the ball into the net, you can see Cocis just getting into the Sounders 18 yard box - but where's Guly? How is it that a player who has played his ass off for 92 minutes can hustle to join the attack to give the other attackers an option, but the guy who was brought on to be an attacking threat only 20 minutes earlier cannot? Guly is approaching the Sherjill Macdonald work-rate territory. I just don't understand why he is still seeing the field.
Next up, a home-and-home series with the Columbus Crew - Wednesday at Toyota Park, Sunday in Columbus. Six points out of these next two games would do wonders for this team. It will get tricky, as a quarterfinal date with Orlando City looms after these next two games. Will Yallop take the chance to climb up the standings in league play, or pay more attention to the US Open Cup? We will find out in what has to be the most crucial 2 weeks of the 2015 season.