Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) – San Jose Earthquakes (2)

3/4 Thumbs Up

Coach Frank Yallop gives the Fire’s 2-1 loss 75% of a thumbs up. (Via Chicago-Fire.com)

James Vlahakis’ review of the Fire’s 2-1 loss to San Jose is an exercise in restrained rage.

This was a match that will stick out in the memories of the Fire faithful. My grim review is not what I wanted to do on my spring break vacation, but as a fan of the game and the Fire in particular, I’m going to be blunt and honest in my assesment. I’m not drinking Kool-Aid on this trip, that’s for sure…

Sean Johnson
For starters, Sean Johnson had a rough game. His distribution was weak (per usual), but his biggest mistake was failing to clear out a corner kick (and colliding with Matt Polster) which led to the first goal. It appeared that Johnson did not trust his defenders to do their job. He opted to launch himself outside his six yard box (the zone most keepers, with the exception of elites like Manuel Neuer, consider a “playable” area) and it didn’t look like Sean even yelled that he was going after the ball.  Johnson took matters into his own hands, and got in his defender’s way in the process.

Anyone who plays the game knows one thing: When a keeper commits to coming out to get the ball they had better get the ball.

The second goal was from a spill that looked all-too-familiar. While commentators continue to praise Sean for this athletic shot stopping capabilities in the same breath they consistently note this propensity to spill balls and give up rebound shots. Jon Busch’s performance last week was far superior with his excellent (soft) hands holding onto numerous shots. Sean is a real talent, but he has to be better if he wants to keep the Fire in playoff contention and if he wants another call up to the US Men’s National Team. There’s a crop of young keepers nipping at his heels.

Defenders
Eric Gehrig had some moments of quality during the match. His crushing second half header that was parried away by San Jose goalie David Bingham was the closest thing Chicago had to a highlight reel clip, and his Wondo blocked shot kept the Fire’s hopes alive late. That said: he is a center back, not an outside back. He played inside and very close to Larentowicz at times and didn’t seem to be tracking attacking players who were playing out wide. Fortunately, San Jose did not appear to notice or exploit this issue.

According to Alexi Lalas, a much loved and hated former USMNT player and international pro, Jeff Larentowicz is not a center back and does not prefer to play that position. Ever the good soldier, Larentowicz played moderately well in this position and his level of verbal and non-verbal communication appeared to be better with his other defenders.

Through no fault of their own, Sean Johnson and center back Adailton did have s some communication difficulties. Many didn’t realize that Adailton is not a native English speaker and viewers noticed the difficulty Johnson had in setting up a wall in the second half with the sun in his eyes. Fortunately Sean made a decent save of what could have been a dangerous set piece.

Lovel Palmer had a good game, he was speedy up the wings and several of his crosses were close to target. This is not meant as a criticism of Palmer, but we started to play way too much long-ball as the game progressed.

Matt Polster is not a starter (yet). Although he looked like he had gotten over his first game jitters, it didn’t take too long for him to get a yellow. As noted above, I can’t fault him for colliding with Sean Johnson, but at the same time, I don’t know him well enough to think that he would have confidentially headed that corner out if he was given the chance.

Midfield
Shaun Maloney is a celebrated Designated Player and is slowly improving on the pitch. While his set pieces were a few notches below D.P. status, I think it’s fair to say that there is potential within the Scotsman. He just needs more time to gel, but unfortunately, he will be called up for international play and when he returns its likely that he’ll be gassed or jetlagged or both. One thing (among a long list) that I’d like to see of him is a more commanding presence on the pitch. Fan favorite Arne Friedrich acted like a field general during his short tenure. Another fan favorite (at least for me and a certain “Marty Party”) Sebastian Hugo Grazzini, did the same in more of a play-maker role.

Shaun is being paid to play a similar role.

After he recovers from his sunburn, he will not doubt review the game footage from the past three games and figure out what he needs to do. He’s a smart player with tactical skills and it should only be a matter of time that he gets better in his role and works together with Harry Shipp. Maybe Razvan Cocis is standing in the wings watching every minute of game footage and he’s going to come in and right this ship.

Harry had a hell of a game–and he was lauded for his efforts continually by commentator Alexi Lalas. I don’t have to highlight the fact that Alexi’s DP related comments were repeated on Twitter. Harry’s goal was not beautiful, but it was nice to see given the calm set up that lead to it. I can imagine that Harry visualized the ball leaving his foot and entering the goal moments before it contacted with his foot.

In a sign of awareness and class, Harry saluted the traveling supporters, estimated by those in attendance at around 50. I could go on-and-on about Harry’s work on the pitch last night, but I don’t think I have to, as it was clear for anyone to see. He was the star of the match and he will be a star of the team this year.

Shipp is too much of a fighter to have a sophomore slump. Notably, if some stats nerd has the time, someone should prepare a goal-to-salary stat tracker to see what a great deal he is for the Fire on a weekly basis. And finally, while Harry has been snubbed from the US Men’s national team, do we really want to lose our best player (thus far) to a few international friendlies? I have to think that Harry is on Jurgen’s radar and it’s only a matter of time for him to get called up for another international window or the Gold Cup. I just hope that his call up does not occur at the same time as call ups for the Fire’s DP players.

I scratched my head when Joevin Jones was subbed out, but then again, I don’t have a single coaching certificate. Having said that, I thought he had a few moments of quality play and that he has a fair amount of speed and awareness of where to put the ball and move into space.

Matt Stephens needs time to grow and figure out his role. He may also need to invest in shin-guards that are larger than my six year old’s. After all, this is the MLS and it is known for its physicality. That said, he’s a smart, aggressive player and if played in the right position, he will contribute on both defense and offense. Only time will tell.

I missed Chris Ritter in the defensive midfield—mostly for the reason that I thought he was improving and by not playing him, his growth as a player may falter if and when he’s tossed into the frying pan in a future “must win game.”
Forwards
I will start at the end. Accam’s entry into the game was a high point; to the extent his presence immediately changed the complexion of the game. He’s speedy, that’s for sure, and he’s going to get fouled like crazy by MLS defenders. I hope he stays healthy as his speed will work well with Lovel Palmer. He has a good first touch and we’ll just have to see how he shoots against MLS keepers.

As noted by my on-and-off nemesis @AEGCheckbook (I’m joking of course, nemesis is too strong of a word) and others, Quincy Amarikwa appeared on Twitter after the game to promote his off the field endeavors. While many took offense to Quincy’s efforts to hustle his side business, I thought Quincy’s continual on-field hustle was worthy of some praise. It is clear Alexi Lalas and others on Twitter do not believe that Quincy is the best man to be on the front line, but that’s the position he was started in and his hustle almost led to a goal situation when he challenged (on more than one occasion) the San Jose keeper.

Sure, Quincy was schooled at the top of the 18 before he was subbed out, but the kid showed lots of heart. If and when the other forwards gel with Shaun Maloney and Harry Shipp, I think Quincy will make one hell of an impact sub. His 8 goals last year were truly based on grit and none of them (off the top of my head) were padded by PKs. Someone should comment below on how much of his hustle lead to converted PK’s.

And please, please do not criticize him for going down “too easy.” Really? He’s knocked around a lot and even if he does go down, there are times where he doesn’t go down when he easily could. He’s nowhere close to the level of Arjen Robben’s diving skills, and while we can all agree that he does not have Robben’s ball skills, in my somewhat humble opinion I think people should let up a bit on him and allow him to blossom into an impact sub. If he succeeds in that role, like Harry Shipp, he will demonstrate an excellent goal-to-salary ratio.

Guly do Prado and Kennedy Igboananike did not give me much to write about when they were subbed in. Again, they need time to gel with other players and to learn the tactics that Coach Yallop is trying to impart on the team. It’s a sad fact that I can devote more analysis to Quincy that one of our highly-paid DPs. That’s not a good sign, but I’m sure we will see a revamped line up next weekend at our must-win game.
Final Thoughts
Kudos to the traveling band of supporters who attended the game. They got on TV at least one time that I noticed, and the announcer was aware enough to note that Harry saluted them. I know for a fact that this type of support helps our players. More people should think of going. Go to the Section 8 website‘s Forum to read about away trips, or learn about Section 8 away game tickets here.

While you are at it, read about and contribute to the Tifo fund. Raffles to support the Tifo fund take place at all watch parties and at monthly board meetings. The next meeting is April 1, 2015 at the Atlantic Bar & Grill.

In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the obvious—Coach Yallop now has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst record of any Fire coach (correct me below if I am wrong on this stat).

Over 37 games played to date under the Yallop era, the Fire has notched six wins, thirteen losses and fortuitously, eighteen ties. I will leave it to others on Twitter, but there was a lot of passionate and well-reasoned criticisms of the match and tactics last night, and I presume much of the discussion has continued today.

In the end, while some people who-shall-not-be-named think that criticism is a sign of being a bad supporter, in my personal opinion, I think that the abundant criticism shows that we have a passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated fan-base. If the play on the pitch improves, the passionate criticism will lead to happy fans and happy fans will lead to more people in the seats. Let’s hope this happens fast for the state of our sanity. We will be in the national spot light next weekend (again) and I’m sure that Taylor Twellman (a former true Fire nemesis) will pick at the scab and take up from where Lalas left off with his stinging but insightful comments.

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James Vlahakis is OTF’s man for analysis and shenanigans (shenaniganalysis?). Make him yours @jvlaha.

One thought on “Dispatch: Chicago Fire (1) – San Jose Earthquakes (2)

  1. I am a fan of Lovell Palmer, but I’m not too sure about him this year so far… to be fair, he’s been at LB instead of RB the last two games. Two weeks ago he cleared a headed ball across goal to give up a score, and this week he dribbled and cut in towards goal when trying to clear… trying to give me a heart attack.

    I think he’s putting in a good volume of crosses, but it’s like they’re going through the motions — no one ever seems close to getting on the other end of those headers. Too often it seems like fullbacks are putting in early crosses just to do it and then hustle back… they’re not threatening.

    It’s been rare this year to see anyone race to the endline to put something dangerous in.

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