By Amanda Beemer
Optimists (and coaches) tend to regard losses as learning experiences. Although I am clearly neither, viewing the Fire’s horrific loss (1-4) to Toronto through that prism seems to be the only way to soften the blow. So, for what it’s worth, here are the lessons I learned last Saturday:
- My love/hate relationship with rookie keeper Andrew Dykstra has skewed towards hate…the loss was certainly not entirely his fault, but my allegiance to veteran defenders Wilman Conde and CJ Brown leads me to solely blame him for letting those last THREE goals through. The first was entirely understandable; Toronto’s Nick LaBrocca managed to judge the wind just right and use it to his advantage to sail a ball into the net just shy of the far post. And despite the obvious failings of the Fire’s back line, I still find myself quietly remarking that Busch never would have let those goals through (yes, it’s still a sore spot – and will continue to be until Dykstra proves otherwise).
- Nyarko is the primary target for defenders when he’s inside or adjacent to the penalty box. The fact that he is consistently getting tackled in the same area appears to reflect opposing players’ realization that he’s a dangerous midfielder and is particularly adept at assisting goals (four assists in four consecutive games this season is somewhat noteworthy). Although his brilliant runs keep getting shut down and the tackles are always nasty, they generally result in a free kick for the Fire…now all we have to do is figure out how to consistently capitalize on those opportunities.
- Mapp’s prior injury is going to continue to haunt him throughout the season – he was apparently out this match because of it, rather than the leg injury he acquired in the last match. However, fellow Fire veteran Logan Pause filled in for him and scored
Photo from fOTOGLIF
a brilliant goal in the 51st minute from about 35 yards out that changed the Fire’s momentum, until Toronto’s Chad Barrett broke out about 15 minutes later.
- The Fire’s roster is clearly full of talent, so their lineup going forward can be fairly flexible. This stands in stark contrast to prior seasons in which the lineup was largely unchanged throughout the season, and is perhaps partially due to veterans’ injuries which have kept them from starting in this season’s matches. The absence of midfielders like Mapp, Pause, and John Thorrington has allowed younger players more time on the pitch to showcase the skills they developed in prior seasons, although they are still leaving a lot to be desired.
- The young midfielders do fairly well on their own, but can’t seem to find our forwards, even if there’s two of them. For example, in the Toronto match Collins John came in for Peter Lowry in the 37th minute, giving us two forwards for the first time since the San Jose match (according to Assistant Head Coach Mike Matkovich the switch was in fact tactical, not due to injury). Despite the fact that we had two talented strikers (McBride started as usual) up front for the majority of the match, the ball rarely made it to them.
- It’s a shame we traded Barrett. Although a lot of Fire fans were disappointed in his performance during his stint with our club, I was at best vaguely aware of his potential in prior seasons. I’m sure his two back-to-back goals against Chicago were especially sweet due to our club’s lack of faith in him, but it was especially bitter for those of us who were sad to see him go.
- The Fire’s SuperDraft pick Corben Bone looks promising. He replaced midfielder Marco Pappa on the pitch in the 51st minute, and although he didn’t add much during his MLS debut, he didn’t take anything away either. He may not be a breakout superstar, but he at least looked competent and as though he had plenty to offer.
As a pseudo-optimist, it seems to me that after a match like that we must resolve to take what we can from the past and apply it towards the future. This weekend the Fire will face Kansas City, whose record is quite similar to our own: 2-3-1 overall and 1-1-1 at home. Perhaps Mapp, Thorrington, and Pause will all return to the midfield and show the young guns that teamwork, accuracy, and proper finishing are the keys to scoring, and Dykstra (and our defenders) will get his act back together. That way, we can consider the Toronto match as an exception, rather than the norm.
Amanda is a long-time Chicago resident and an avid Chicago Fire fan, and has been following MLS for the better part of a decade. Although she makes an awesome spectator, she is a god-awful player. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org