Brian McBride is on his way and Chad Barrett has gone to Toronto. In the interim, rookie striker Patrick Nyarko has emerged as a serious candidate to help fill the goal-scoring void the Chicago Fire has had since May.
Nyarko showed the skill and finishing touch that had him regarded as the concensus No. 1 overall pick in the MLS Draft (at least until he slid in the draft all the way to the Fire). He could have easily scored two goals in the Fire’s win against Chivas USA if not for one very close offside call. No matter, the youngster finished off a chance and gave Chicago a sorely-needed home victory.
The result spoiled Zach Thornton’s first start of the 2008 season and debut for Chivas USA. The veteran netminder looks ready to step in for the departed Brad Guzan but before Thornton can taste victory, his team’s attack is going to have to wake up.
SBI correspondent Stephen Wattles was in at Toyota Park for the action and gave us this report (Chivas USA correspondent John Sandate was unavailable to file a report his week.)
Fire finally beats Chivas USA at Toyota Park
By STEPHEN WATTLES
Whenever Chivas USA come to town, Toyota Park is always hopping. The fake goats draw enough of the real goat fans to ensure an electric atmosphere. Unfortunately, the red and white striped droves are usually the ones walking away happy. Entering Saturday’s contest the Fire had not recorded a win in this series since Chivas’ expansion year and that included losses in both contests in Bridgeview.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s absence for the first time since his arrival was doing nothing for my confidence in the lead-up. Coming off of consecutive scoreless ties it seemed like this might be the best result the Fire could hope for. Though the three points on offer were extremely important given the key conference tilts against New England and DC in the coming weeks.
Denis Hamlett’s selection of the same starting line-up he had used in the first half of the Everton exhibition inspired a bit of hope, as it meant first MLS starts for both Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa. Both had shown some good things in the mid-week friendly and the hope was for more of the same this night.
Those clamoring for Nyarko to get the start (myself included) were vindicated as the rookie from Virginia Tech turned in a great first half before departing at halftime due to an unfortunate clash of heads. His goal was all that the Fire would need in their 1-0 victory.
Besides the fact that it was seemingly the first goal scored off a corner kick by a Chicago professional soccer team since the Sting shuddered their doors, there was so much more to like about it. First, it came within minutes of the terrible call on what should have been Nyarko’s first of two goals. Secondly, it wasn’t an easy finish. And lastly the fact that he wasn’t afraid to take the shot when clearly Chris Rolfe could have had a crack at it as well. Evidence of that goal scorer’s attitude, ability, and hunger from someone who has shown an ability to pass was a welcome sight.
Nyarko’s departure at the half handed Jon Busch the stadium announced man of the match, and this one might have been a season’s achievement award. He had much less to do in collecting his third consecutive clean sheet thanks to the once again solid back four.
The Fire midfield was a buzz saw of quick technical players on the evening with Pappa doing extremely well on his full debut. Their lone weakness was a lack of patience and inability to hold possession for stretches of the second half.
As the last few months of the season play out team selection will undoubtedly be the topic of choice for Fire fans. Despite some folk’s opinions of him, Hamlett’s handing of the armband to Logan Pause leaves little doubt of his standing in the coach’s mind. So with twelve games left in the season there is little to do but debate who will hold down the five ‘offensive’ spots to be had.
Despite how well the participants on Saturday evening played, one will have to drop to the bench when Blanco returns on Saturday and yet another when McBride arrives from Beijing. I’ll throw in my two cents that Pappa, Thorrington, Blanco, Rolfe and McBride be the five, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out as that combination drops both Mapp and Nyarko to the substitutes’ bench.
Regardless, it’s a great problem to have and it will be the gelling of those players over the next three months that will determine if this a title contending team as many now portend. For as fun as it was to leave Toyota Park on Saturday on the winning side of things, it would be a lot more fun to do it in Chivas’ Park come November.