So maybe here's what we'll do: We'll take Hope, that lump-eared fool, out to the edge of town and sort of drop him off. We're not going to do anything bad to Hope - no! No. Just ... moving him. It. Elsewhere.
Maybe a little farther than the edge of town, after a moment's thought. Hope's dangerous. And cruel. And futile. Drive for a while before you let him off, eh? Here's a $50 for gas.
The Fire careened into Viernes de futbol! like a gyroscope, stabilized by the spin that the team's continued wallow in the basement of MLS was down to the gosh-darned injuries, and fates, and whatnot. Guided by the whirling power of this idea, it seemed feasible that a 2-0 silencing of Dallas was simply the first data point on a graph of exponential upward sweep. Hope, that sneaky bastard, was just there on the couch one morning when you woke up, y'know?
But what happens in Fire-land when Hope shows up? It all comes unsprung, right? The passes don't connect, the half-step you need to be onside goes the other way, and the half-step to push the other guy off, and all those other little half-moments add up to a 1-0 loss to Portland.
Have we seen this before - a staunch defensive effort stymied by moments where everyone's deep in their own universes? Moments of flowing attack undone by an hilariously errant cross, or a shot two passes too early? Today featured a little of all of it.
Ok, some facts. The highlights are right there, for the luvva - no, seriously, just click the link I've included right up there ... fine. Fanendo Adi roofed home the only goal of the game on a sizzling cross from Diego Valeri three minutes into the second half. On that play, Joevin Jones stood off Valeri fearfully, Jeff Larentowicz got caught in no-man's land, and Eric Gehrig got beat ball-side by Adi. It was also a pinpoint cross with tremendous pace, which Adi finished irresistably, so ...
That's why we don't like Hope showing up around here. Fate, it seems, has turned its face away. We produce lots of nearlies but far too few reallies. The Fire had enough of the game to get a result, but - as has been the case all season - they struggled to finish the chances they created. For a team that seemed fixated on attacking down the wings, the Men in Red were particularly terrible at crossing the ball, completing none. Several promising sequences ended with crosses drifting well beyond the goal line or rocketing out for a throw on the far side.
The King of the Chances fell to Jason Johnson in the 33rd minute. Pressing out against Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey, he seemed astonished to run onto Kwarasey's scuffed pass just 8 yards from goal. So astonished, in fact, that he scuffed his shot as well, sending a weak dribbler toward goal that the Timbers netminder gratefully smothered.
The Timbers are a pretty decent team, especially in their place, but this loss feels like a desperate gamble that came badly unsprung. The Men in Red played an identical starting XI from Sunday's 2-0 Dallas win, essentially wagering that their chances of a surprise result in the Rose City were sufficient to risk injuring or exhausting key players five days before a US Open Cup semifinal in Philadelphia.
That roll came up craps when David Accam limped off after 40-plus minutes. Accam's seeming hamstring injury transforms a garden-variety tough road loss into a potentially season-wiping worst-case scenario - the Ghanaian's pace and hunger have become the team's reference point and tactical definition. Some solace can come from the fact that the Fire managed to create a chance after chace after Accam's substitution; clean looks at goal were harder to come by. But if he's lost for the Cup semis ...
We leave the Fire, then, teetering over the precipice, with only the Open Cup left to save them. Surely 12 losses from 22 means the playoffs are a pipe dream. Can they catch themselves? Can anyone?
- This was the coked-up-dude-from-the-third-scene-of-a-casino-movie scenario I described in the preview, and the results are pretty close to the theoretical bottom - key guy hurt, every other key guy ground down to a nub by the turf - now a cross-country flight and the only game that matters on Wednesday! "I SAID EVERYTHING ON BLACK!" he screamed, oblivious to the looks of the others at the table, smiling and blowing on the dice with transparently manufactured bravado.
- As disappointing as the results have been, I have to say that I see what Yallop & gang are getting at with this roster, especially the midfield. Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis are quietly becoming a really elite pairing in the middle; Polster was all over the park tonight, displaying a growing positional and tactical awareness to go along with his elite physicality and clever problem-solving in tight spaces. Maloney's thick-legged wee mugger routine never gets old. And Shipp is clearly working to adapt to life on the wing. The problem is the finishing, the finishing, the finishing.
- By which I mean to say that the striking Mr. Johnson has played himself onto the bench for Wednesday's all-important match. Jason saw quite a few chances fall in his direction Friday, and took a few shots that weren't even chances, and none of them were anything other than terrible.