When the Chicago Fire thrashed the New England Revolution last month, the lopsided scoreline was blamed on Revs midfielder Jeff Larentowicz drawing an early red card. There was no such excuse this week.
Chicago thoroughly outplayed New England on its home turf, putting three unanswered goals past a once-stingy Revs defense in a 3-0 victory. That makes the aggregate score in their season series a whopping 7-0.
While Chicago is riding a stingy defense and improving offense, the Revs have proven inconsistent and have been shutout in their past two home games.
SBI Correspondents Stephen Wattles and Andrew Karl took in the match and share their takes on the match:
Plenty to praise in Fire’s second rout of New England
By STEPHEN WATTLES
Revolution fans, do you still think it was the referee who cost your team that first game?
Readers will have to forgive me this week as its getting to be big head time out here in Chicago after the Fire strolled into Gillette Stadium Saturday night and clinically and professionally dispatched New England on their own field. The questioning and complaining that you’ve come to expect is nowhere to be found (at least for one week).
The foundation of my concern had been that the play the Fire had exhibited would not stand up on the road against a good team. Defeating the four-time running MLS Cup participants (and Fire playoff vanquishers) 3-0 in their own building will quickly dispel that concern, at least for now.
The win was a definition of how you strive to play on the road. Limit the opposing teams chances, defend aggressively from front to back, and finish the opportunities you create. Though the stat sheet might indicate this was smash and grab based on the Revolution’s 7-0 and 11-5 advantages in corners and shots, those stats belie what really transpired. The Fire created three legitimate scoring opportunities and finished each, while the Revs were only able to create two that appeared truly dangerous, both of which John Busch coolly snuffed.
Chris Rolfe’s opening goal was the key to the game and a perfect example of why Fire fans clamor so loudly for his spot on the team to be at forward. He remains the only player on this team besides Cuauhtémoc Blanco who can receive a ball and quickly finish with any precision. Hopefully, last night’s result will be the cue for him to own that spot in the line-up when healthy.
But as good as the finish was, the real beauty of that goal will never make the highlights. Including the outlet from Busch, Rolfe’s shot to the lower left corner was the result of 12 consecutive passes touched by 7 different Fire players that over the course of 30 seconds completely opened up New England.
It was also indicative of the overall Fire performance. The team was completely in sync with one another, and played for the team rather than themselves. The performance allowing me to even fancy a comparison to the Revolution’s Gillette Stadium co-tenants from that silly sport played with the pointy oblong ball.
Even my usual targets Barrett and Mapp, despite not doing anything to stand out, played in an intelligent and controlled way that gave the team the best chance to win. Credit for that has to go to Dennis Hamlett and the rest of his staff. The team clearly had a game plan that every player knew and understood.
The back-line really has earned the right to stay intact after again shielding John Busch from most of the Revs efforts. All four players worked wonderfully in concert, and although many will still argue, Bakary Soumare is really looking like the real deal to me. The midfield is equally immune to criticism with Logan Pause and team leading scorer John Thorrington hardly taking a wrong step on the evening.
Even Blanco’s play indicated he had bought into the team cause. It wasn’t the flashy highlight reel stuff people love to see, but he was involved in all three goals and his presence continues to draw defenders and allow openings for his teammates. Further proof that his value to this team goes far beyond what shows up in highlights and stat sheets.
The Fire are off to the nation’s capital, with the hope to execute a similar plan at RFK on Thursday evening. If they do, I may just be ready to declare the power in the East has shifted to the Midwest.
Injured vets can’t return soon enough for struggling Revs
By ANDREW KARL
The sight of Steve Ralston on the bench gave this fan cause for optimism, reason to believe that Saturday night would be the turning point of a so far lack-luster start to the season. It was time for the offense to produce and the defense to remain solid as it had against Dallas last week. But by halftime the Revolution had already dug themselves a hole so deep that even the second half exploits of Ralston could not help the team dig out. A squad that should have felt rested and relieved by the return of recently missed starters Chris Albright, Jeff Larentowicz, and Mauricio Castro ultimately put in a weak performance, surrendering three goals in the process.
While Steve Nicol used an unfamiliar formation with a 4-man back line last week, a move that resulted in a composed and effective defensive performance, he reverted to his preferred three back system this weekend. The results were nothing but awful as the defense let up three goals. Chris Albright, Michael Parkhurst, and Jay Heaps repeatedly made mistakes and looked shaky for most of the game. The outside backs, Albright and Heaps, apparently cannot handle the defensive duties required by their positions. They more and more seem better suited to play wing-back roles in a 4 man line. But with depth at the outside back spots with Amaechi Igwe and Chase Hilgenbrinck, what’s really needed is a serviceable central defender to play alongside Parkhurst. Is first-round pick Rob Valentino healthy enough to debut or can Larentowicz, who played center back for 4 years at Brown University, step in?
The defense is certainly not solely responsible for the loss to the Fire, in fact I found myself standing up to protest the play of some of our attacking players more often. The team passed well in the midfield and was able to maintain possession for repeated stretches of the match, but the lack of an end product was terribly frustrating. With Chicago pinned back in their own half and with 8 blue jerseys in the attacking half, the Revs could simply not deliver the final pass or finishing touch.
The sight of Wells Thompson dribbling at goal, with his supporting cast in position around him, only to turn around at the edge of the 18 yard box and run with the ball back towards his defense was infuriating. Thompson and Castro were clueless all game, Castro’s only usefulness coming on dead ball situations. While I was dying to see Steve Ralston’s return, he went on in place of Khano Smith, the Revolutions only attacker willing to run at the defense aggressively. Once down 3-0, not only was the team unable to provide any decent service to the forwards, but our midfielders’ reluctance to shoot the ball frustrated and angered many of the fans in my section.
After the game, a few miles north of the stadium in a pub pumping English brews from imported casks, it took more than a few rounds to forget about the performance I’d just witnessed. Reflecting on the game, on New England’s squandered chance to repay the Fire for the defeat in Chicago a few weeks back, was too stressful a venture not to be aided by heavy beer. The time had been right, the atmosphere there while attacking the goal at the Fort end in the second half on Saturday Night, for the Revolution to show the fans some second half magic and turn the game around. But there was no comeback, only disappointment; the return of Steve Ralston the only conceivable upside. His return seemingly couldn’t come at a better time, as Ralston can and should be the player to inject and attacking knowhow into the team.