Well, it’s the first time I’ve had to write about the Fire losing in a while, and make no mistake, it kind of sucks. With that said, there are certainly a number of things we can take away, perhaps more evident in a loss as opposed to a win.
Just to get this out of the way quickly, I’m not crediting or blaming this loss on anyone in particular. Houston was a much better team on Saturday, and got a deserved three points. The Fire have been fortunate in salvaging points when they absolutely don’t deserve them (the Red Bull match comes to mind). And, the Dynamo really dominated much of the game, and could have very easily notched six or seven goals.
Moving on, I think it’s very clear that we have a guy in Freddie Ljungberg who will be completely despised by every other team in the MLS. He’s a bit of a dirty player, but as long as he’s on my team, I think I can handle it (a la Marouane Fellaini on Everton). After his best performance of the season earlier this week in the win over the Revolution, the Swede definitely topped it with an outstanding second half rally.
Ljungberg set up all three Fire scores and notched two assists. He also greatly frustrated the Dynamo defense with his ability to maintain possession individually, something that the rest of the Fire midfielders and forwards struggled to do. In addition to all of that, the dude’s work rate has been absolutely outstanding for the club. After the way he left the Sounders, that was my number one worry, and he is absolutely playing his behind off. Ljungberg’s acquisition is starting to look like it may mean even more to Chicago than Henry has for New York.
Speaking of acquisitions, I’m getting a little bit uneasy about Nery Castillo. After looking out of his element playing up top in his debut, he’s played more of an attacking midfield role in the past two matches, playing 45 minutes in both appearances. Now obviously, he’s going to need more time to adjust than Ljungberg, as he hasn’t played the game in a good while. However, the only time you realize he’s on the pitch is when he invariably gets called offside a handful of times each match or drops an extremely dirty elbow on Rev defender Kevin Alston. Like I said, we’ll wait and see here, but he’s not looking like a guy who has a lot to prove, which is what we were sold initially after bringing him in.
Although he’s not really an acquisition, getting Patrick Nyarko back (hopefully for good) certainly feels like a big grab. He was so good in the first part of the season and adding him to the midfield will certainly pay off in the playoff race. He looked good vs. LA a few weeks ago and he was threatening in his time as a sub on Saturday. As I’ve said in recent write-ups, his addition to Pappa and Ljungberg in the Fire offense could be incredible.
Something that I’ve started to notice in recent weeks that has been a bit overlooked is the importance of the presence of Logan Pause in the midfield. He’s not very flashy, but he seems to make the right play more often than not, and he’s most definitely holding his own in a midfield composed of a number of big money stars. Sometimes we undervalue the importance of a steady hand, or in this case, a steady foot, and that’s exactly what Pause is.
But you know who isn’t steady? Marco Pappa. Here’s a man who was incredible, if a tad selfish at times, for the Fire in the first half of the season. He set up a number of goals, he scored a number of goals, and he started the MLS All-Star Game vs. Manchester United. Ever since, he’s been consistently inconsistent. At times his partnership with Ljungberg in the midfield looks unbeatable. And then other times, as was the case last night, he was largely invisible.
And before I forget, I’m going to go ahead and consume some crow regarding my initial analysis of Calen Carr’s role on the team. He scored his second goal this week, a score primarily set up by his speed and a calm demeanor in the box. He cooly turned his defender around and settled before unleashing the shot. How many times a week do we see an MLS forward get hurried close to goal, and take absolutely the wrong shot?
Last, let’s talk about rookie keeper Sean Johnson who had his worst day in goal in his fourth MLS start. As I’ve said from the beginning, he will undoubtedly have growing pains in goal, but the scoreline may be a little bit harsh in analyzing his performance. The first goal was an unfortunate spill caused by a run in with CJ Brown, the second was an outstanding free kick effort that Johnson got a finger on, the third was scored on a bicycle kick after a rebound and the final was a colossal marking error by Brown. Now we expect him to get some of those saves, but he STILL had some highlight saves Saturday. The more interesting question is how he will respond to this loss in the Sounders match next weekend.
Well, I think it’s probably a good idea to keep these things under a thousand words, so I’ve covered what I wanted to cover, and it’ll be interesting to watch this team as they continue to get used to each other.