Dispatch: Chicago Fire (0) at Los Angeles Galaxy (2)
It’s too early to say anything overly positive or overly critical, so OTF’s Brian Howe Battle does both.
“Yallop was once asked if he might be tempted to roll out a 4-3-3 and he replied, wryly, ‘You can call it whatever you like, but you already know what it will be.'” -San Jose Earthquakes writer Nerdy Gales in an 11/1/13 OTF Guest Blog
You could call the beginning of this season whatever you would like, but part of your psyche already knows what it will be. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Saturday’s loss to defending champion LA Galaxy wasn’t so much a bad start as a non-start. The game wasn’t horribly bad, it was terribly good… there was some promising play, but we also saw some things that were quite discouraging.
Best advice for now: Relax.
It’s one game. An opening game on the road that no one was sure would even happen until a day before, against the best team (tactically) in the league. A game in which the Fire were still missing key pieces — MIke Magee and David Accam at attack, Patrick Nyako and Razvan Cocis at mid, and Adaílton in defense… that’s 5 starters.
So, back up off the ledge for just a moment, kids. Here are my game notes including the Good (Greg Gehrig), the Bad (Matt Watson), and the Ugly (Gyasi Zardes’ hair):
- Greg Gehrig looks legit. Credit to former Crew-man Brian Bliss for knowing that this center back was quality. Gehrig made a lot of good clearances, and was a steady presence despite one stroke-inducing back pass that put ‘keeper Sean Johnson in a race to the ball against the speedy Zardes. If Adaliton can prove he’s trustworthy as a starter, it’s possible Jeff Larentowicz can back-fill at CDM for Cocis.
- Lunchpail forwards. Despite very little real opportunity, starting forwards Quincy Amarikwa and newcomer Kennedy Igboananike still put in a tremendous amount of work in up top. If they’re still able to put in that kind of effort by July, we’ll see, but in general they worked their tails off. Don’t stop now, boys.
- Harry Shipp; all-around good guy. We all know Shipp’s potential going forward, but I was pleased to see him rounding out his 50/50 and defensive game. He will always be a bit undersized, but it looks like Shipp put on some muscle in the offseason which helped him stay balanced on the ball during, and even showed some brawn to win a ball back at midfield. Even better, that fitness may allow him to keep up his form deep into his second year.
- Possession and Completion. Fire’s possession and pass completion numbers weren’t terrible. Considering they’re playing away against a talented team to begin the season, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
- Drubbing Avoided. Last time we visited Los Angeles the Fire took three in the gut from then-Galaxy forward Mike Magee. On Friday, early-season miscues by the Galaxy and some Sean Johnson super-saves prevented the score from getting out of hand. If L.A. was in mid-season form they would have finished many more of their chances.
- Robbie Keane’s Goal. That guy still knows how to finish.
- Early Second Half. There was a moment, in the first 25 minutes of the second half, that we saw what the Fire season could actually look like this year. They were clever, they were energetic, and Quincy clearly created a peno opportunity with a brilliant from a Shipp through ball when the score was still 0-0. Let’s see more of that, yeah?
- Matt Watson at Right Mid. Watson is a utility man. It’s possible that some of that versatility is preventing him from being especially effective at any position, but, we know for sure that right mid is not for him. He showed great hustle, but didn’t seem to be in the right place at the right time. Nyarko is still a long time from returning, and increasingly an injury risk, so it will be interesting to see who else can fill that role. Interestingly enough, Shaun Maloney has played right wing fairly frequently, could he be the temporary answer? Guly do Prado also played right wing for Southampton. As often as Prado drifted back to collect the ball on Friday, maybe that’s where he should be playing?
- Chris Ritter Band Aid. I’ve joked before about Ritter and his role as Destroyer last season, but I sincerely think that he can develop into a good defensive mid. In this game particularly though, with Cocis out because of injury, he seemed out of place. Some questionable passes, a lack of spatial awareness, and a generally tentative nature made for an uneven game. To be fair, his Opta stats do show how some efficient passing acuity.
- Dump & Chase. Especially early in the game the Yallop strategy looked like a very Joel Quenneville-esque. That is, the ol’ “dump and chase,” which involves whacking the puck to the back boards and racing defenders back to reacquire possession. In the Fire’s case, the “back boards” were Amarikwa and Igbonanike. The forwards did their best, but rarely were the Chicago mids in a good place to recollect these “Route 1” balls and create real chances.
- Skunk Head. This is not NEW information, but, man… Gyasi Zardes’ hair is just awful.
- Escape from L.A. The score of this match was 0-0 until pretty late into this match. “Escaping” from Stub Hub Arena with one point in hand would have been pretty great. It seemed that the subbing of Michael Stephens for Watson (’56) and Matt Polster for Chris Ritter (’63) were offensive-minded substitutions. Maybe because it was the prime time MLS opener and the bevy of draws last season, but… why not just lock-it-down and tie the MLS Cup winners at home to ruin their day? One minute after the Polster substitution was Jose Villareal’s goal.
- “Fek Awf!” Keane’s goal celebrations just ooze class, don’t they? Not to mention his pole-kicking tantrums. How, again, is he the captain of this team? MLS has conveniently edited out Keane’s celebratory antics in their highlight real, but I have conveniently made it the header image of this article. You’re welcome.
See you all in Bridgeview.
OTF Contributor Brian Howe Battle is a Chicago local and will never use the word “treble” where “triple” will suffice. You can follow Brian on Twitter at @OwenGoal.