The Chicago Fire had the momentum heading into Sunday’s showdown with Kansas City Wizards, but that momentum disappeared with an early Wizards goal and with every missed chance the Fire botched.
Fire fans will curse Chad Barrett and Jon Busch, while Wizards fans will thank Jack Jewsbury and Kevin Hartman. The reality is that the teams aren’t that far apart and should battle for a place atop the East standings all season long.
SBI Correspondents Mike Cross and Stephen Wattles took in the action on Sunday and provided us with there takes on the Wizards’ 1-0 win against the Fire:
Wizards win ugly, but still win
By MIKE CROSS
Well, I’m not sure what to think about this one. I’m ecstatic with the win but I’m not sure what if anything we learned from this game. Wizard’s fans I’m sure don’t want to look this gift horse in the mouth so I’ll just offer some random observations which probably amount to looking the gift horse in the mouth.
The first observation is Kevin Hartman does a heck of a David James imitation. I know ones white and ones black but I swear they’re two brothers from different mothers. I made the mistake of watching the Man City, Portsmouth game Sunday morning before the game and Hartman blurred the lines between the two games for me. Hartman made brilliant save after brilliant save followed by the occasional walk about just to make sure my heart medication was working. In the end the result was a second straight clean slate thanks to the club that Chad Barrett uses for a right foot.
The next observation which is really a question is, is the Wizard’s defense good or just lucky? All I know is they got another shutout with thanks to Mr. Barrett’s aforementioned right foot. But time after time Jimmy Conrad and an alternating cast of, hero’s of the moment stepped forward and made play after play. Jonathan Leathers again proved a revelation coming on as a late substitution. His handling of a ball in the corner when he saved a corner kick with a backward header was a simply exceptional play. Displaying far more touch than a defender is supposed to have. Chicago may have had a multitude of chances but the Wizards had an answer for each one. In the end I suppose that’s all that matters.
Next, the offense has offered us moments of absolute brilliance this year. The Lopez to Jewsbury connection in this game was a sublime piece of passing and finishing in equal measure that was absolutely one of the best of these moments. As of yet this season these moments just haven’t been frequent enough to make Wizards fans comfortable. After two games we had five goals. Now after five we have only increased our total to seven goals. The good news is we’ve still managed to secure points. If we want to win like the 2000 cup winners that’s fine with me but I don’t think that’s exactly the style coach Onalfo is going for.
Then there was Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the flopping, whining, eye-poking captain of the Fire. His antics represent everything fans of most American sports hate about soccer. Hate them they may, but his antics and he are effective. Truth be told I don’t think Blanco’s tactics are all that foreign. They put me in mind of the NASCAR saying, “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’.” And Blanco certainly tries in every game. He must have been an amazing player to watch in his prime. I think it was Steven Cohen who called Blanco the perfect villain for MLS and I think that is a fair description of his role in the league. As for me I can say my team beating any team with Blanco on it is a tremendously satisfying experience.
So the Wizards eight week, six game march of death begins very promisingly. If they are to maintain the early season momentum they have gained they’ll need to get some results from these remaining games, especially from the next three against Eastern Conference teams. Every point gained now is one they won’t have to go out and get in October. Given the Wizards propensity over the last two years to leave things to the last day of the season they can’t afford to take any opportunity for points lightly.
Wasted chances cost Fire first loss
By STEPHEN WATTLES
Perhaps Fire fans had been a little spoiled through the first three matches of the season. Guppy was gone. The winter’s roster wrangling with New York had ended favorably. Two fortunate goals against the run of play had delivered four early road points. The home opener had yielded a small measure of revenge for last year’s (and several prior year’s) playoff loss.
On a beautiful afternoon at Toyota Park, the Kansas City Wizards were more than happy to teach a little lesson in karma. Nearly all the ingredients from the first three weeks were there. The early goal. The backline and stopper who were everywhere they needed to be. The home team probably not getting all they deserved. And yes, the shot that was harder to put over than in. Unfortunately, none were on the Fire’s side this week.
The goal has to be on Jon Busch. The ball from Lopez was impeccable, perfectly weighted and proof of his DP worthiness. But, on a ball like that you either stay back and let your defenders take care of it, or come out hell bent for leather and try to punch. There’s no room for indecision. It was far from the reason for the loss and he made a couple of nice saves later on, but it certainly won’t make his personal highlight reel for the year.
The reason for the loss was the myriad of chances that the Fire wasted on the afternoon. Hartman, Conrad and the rest of the Wizards backline certainly deserve their share of the credit for several big saves and blocks. But the fact remains that the Fire played some of the most attractive and flowing soccer in their 2-plus year residence in Bridgeview, and didn’t put a single one in the back of the net. The last pass, touch, shot wasn’t there on a day that one walked out of the stadium completely entertained if not completely frustrated as well.
The misses that jump most clearly from my memory were Justin Mapp’s horrendous free kick into the wall from the edge of the area, the Segares-Herron ‘you take it’ through ball when either could have scored and neither shot, and of course Barrett’s sky-ball with the net gaping just before the interval.
When reviewing the highlights, the hometown announcers (another story for another day) partially absolved Barrett for his finish. I will do no such thing. It is inexcusable for a professional to miss from that distance, unchallenged, while standing still. I hope Barrett made like Conde earlier in the week, and apologized to his teammates because that ‘finish’ cost the Fire a point on the afternoon.
I hope Dennis Hamlett has all the strikers on notice and is prepared to sit any of them if shots like that one become more frequent or goals aren’t delivered. At the risk of being too pessimistic too early, the stable of strikers has delivered only two goals when opponents were at full strength through four games. I’m not sold yet.
In general the team needs to stop waiting for the perfect chance. Passing the ball into the back of the net is nice, but you had better be able to put a few away from outside of the goalmouth as well. Good things happen when you force the keeper to make a save (as we saw in San Jose).
It’s still early, and play like today’s, combined with a little finishing will make for a great summer at Toyota Park. But without the latter it could quickly become a long frustrating one.