The Chicago Fire still hasn’t won an MLS match in a month, so you would think a road point against the Columbus Crew would be a moral victory of sorts.
Well, it wasn’t. Not when Chicago held a two-goal lead early on and looked like it might find that long-awaited victory. The Crew didn’t let that happen, rallying with two goals to salvage a 2-2 tie on Saturday and keep up a recent run of good attacking soccer to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
SBI correspondents Stephen Wattles and Brant Guillory watched the action and shared their thoughts with us.
Patience the key in following Chicago’s recent dry spell
By STEPHEN WATTLES
As the expression goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or to use a more soccer specific analogy, AS Roma has only won three scudettos in their long history.
Patience is the name of the game these days for fans of the Chicago Fire, and I admit to being a typical fan in that I’m having a hard time finding any.
On one hand, Saturday’s 2-2 tie in Columbus was a wasted two points with the team unable to hold on to the early two goal lead the anemic offense had at last generated, the Fire’s first since the first week of June. And its always frustrating to concede an equalizer as late as the 87th minute, to a rookie, who still probably couldn’t tell you how the ball ended up in the net if his developmental contract depended on it.
But, by taking the long view of the trip to Columbus, there are multiple reasons to see hope. Most significantly, the Fire finally scored, twice no less. The overall play was greatly improved over the previous several weeks and the team showed some energy and desire for the first time in just as long.
Additionally, Denis Hamlett finally has indicated that he recognizes there is something not quite right and rung many of the changes that Fire fans have been clamoring for all season. Perhaps he felt he owed it to the hundreds of men and women of Section 8 who made a great showing at Crew Stadium as they so often do.
Lastly, the Fire was downright fortunate to escape Ohio with a point. From the let-off of Alejandro Moreno’s 16th minute non-goal, which should have stood, to the multiple chances and free kicks Columbus had before and after their equalizer, the tie seemed inevitable. However, another devastating loss was always in the tea leaves. So perhaps, this was a turning point, a fortunate result on the road that can end the rot and propel the team forward.
The Fire did show that when they hold the ball and move it quickly, they have the ability to do beautiful things with it. Their second goal was evidence of this. Calen Carr’s perfect finish was the final touch of eight, taking the ball from end to end and something to behold.
It also brings this piece to a point where patience has been lost. Would Chad Barrett have finished that chance? Or would his low soccer IQ have allowed him to make the same run as Carr to receive Gonzalo Segares’ perfectly weighted pass? My guess is that he wouldn’t have. Combine that with the attitude he exhibited when he did come on and I sincerely hope that if Peter Nowak doesn’t take him off our game day roster, I hope Hamlett will. Barrett is no Cuauhtémoc Blanco, he of the perfect chip to set-up goal number one, and therefore has no right to scream at teammates as he did on Saturday. He simply hasn’t earned it.
The Fire back-line committed too many fouls in and around their penalty area, so more patience is needed when marking and a little less when clearing the ball. I’m pretty sure Bakary Soumare isn’t a Brazilian name, so he needs to just hoof it forward instead of being caught in possession like the first goal. Perhaps his suspension for card accumulation has come at a good time, and watching for a week can help him step further forward in his breakout year.
So as I patiently wait for Saturday to come again and bring another key eastern conference game to Toyota Park, I’ll hope that this week was the sign of a turn instead of more of the same.
Crew fight back for draw in thrilling match
By BRANT GUILLORY
The likelihood of a non-soccer fan reading this is about as high as my chances of playing for The Crew. But if there are any non-soccer fans reading, I have to ask: what’s wrong with you?! How could you watch this game and *not* be a fan? There was end-to-end action, aggressive movement throughout the midfield, shot after shot, highlight-reel saves, and the mandatory MLS-quality crap refereeing for the fans to jeer.
The Nordecke was in full voice, and the Fire played a willing villain, with a pair of early goals to force the home team to fight back. The weather finally – finally! – cooperated on a Saturday night game, and 16,000 folks filled Crew Stadium for a fantastic atmosphere. A rousing national anthem was followed by the traditional Southwest Airlines flyover, even with a start time pushed back 30 minutes for after-game fireworks, and those might’ve been the low point of the night. Even the beer tasted better. Not bad for a game that ended in a 2-2 tie, eh?
Truth be told, both teams could feel good about the tie. Chicago needed several circus stops from ex-Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch to keep the game even; his save on Frankie Hejduk’s 2d half looper to the top corner should make every end-of-season show. The Chicago defense had trouble chasing down Rogers and Ekpo, and if Brian Carroll hadn’t been auditioning for field-goal-kicking duties for the Buckeyes, Busch would’ve faced even more shots. The Crew were able stay composed and aggressive when facing a two-goal deficit, and methodically chipped away at the Fire until they found the back of the net. Home fans don’t come out to see ties, but the Black and Gold Nation was not left feeling empty with the result.
Not that there weren’t negatives. The Crew’s defense won’t want to see the tape of either Chicago goal, because Sigi will be calling players onto the carpet for their failures. Danny O’Rourke wasn’t just watching the second goal. He could’ve been seated with a bowl of popcorn for all the usefulness he displayed in closing down Calen Carr. Despite a lot of ball movement in Chicago’s defensive third, Columbus was settling for outside shots by Brad Evans and Brian Carroll, instead of penetrating runs by Rogers, Ekpo, and Moreno. Jason Garey returned from injury – gotta mention my fellow Cajun! – but was mostly ineffective due to a lack of service and the lack of time playing with the first team.
The Crew have a long-term issue in their midfield. They are basically carrying 5 defensive midfielders, and the closest thing they have to a true attacking midfielder is Schelotto, who officially lines up at forward. The Crew often look like a 4-5
-1, but Schelotto is given the freedom to play sideline to sideline, which he usually does. Unfortunately, that leaves a hole from the opponent’s 18 to the center circle, and Evans, Moffat, Oughton, and Miglioranzi are all best at playing the same position as Brian Carroll, instead of filling the gap in front of him. While that’s an effective lineup for stifling an attack that builds from the rear, or defending a lead, it’s tough to create chances when you’re lining up 2 destroyers and no distributors in middle of the field. Crew fans are screaming for a goal-hawking striker, but Rogers, Gaven, Ekpo, Lenhart, Garey, and Moreno can score, when they’ve got good distribution from behind them.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit the following: I posted several comments in the game entry on the blog about the refs, and one was right when Frankie was ‘tackled’ in the box, and given an immediate yellow card. The stadium (including me) booed like hell. I watched it on TiVo when I got home, though, and the call was absolutely correct – Frankie went down without anyone touching him and should’ve been carded for faking it. That said, there were more than a few calls the ref completely blew. Soumare’s tackle on Rogers around the 58th minute was deserving of a yellow card at a minimum, and it doesn’t look any better on replay.
So it’s a 2-2 tie that started as a 2-0 hole, but could’ve been a 5-2 win had Jon Busch not come back to haunt him. Crew fans would prefer the win, but can hardly be upset with a tie, especially one as entertaining as this one.