One Comically Bad Goal, One Point For Each Team
Fire 2, Dynamo 2
In the end, the Fire's 2-2 tie with Houston on Wednesday night at Toyota Park was enough to keep its unbeaten streak alive at six games (though the five-game winning streak has come to an end.) This is not a bad thing.
That said, the tie was a bit hard to stomach considering Dynamo's second goal was probably the most ridiculous I've seen in MLS. Ever. I'm not kidding. Perhaps I'm forgetting and odd goal here or there, but I can't recall an MLS goal so comical and, sadly for the Fire, undeserved. Honestly, I'm still not over it. I'm still stunned. How did that happen? That should never have happened.
What happened exactly? Well, let me for a moment relive the gory details. Justin Mapp, who otherwise played a solid game, committed a horrible giveaway at midfield. Horrible. He simply lost the ball and then made a feeble effort to win it back. De Rosario, a plucky Canuck if ever there was one, won the ball, took a touch, looked towards the Fire's goal, and unleashed a shot from midfield - yes, he was at midfield - that was taken with an abundance of pure hope and nothing else. It was a total oh-why-the-hell-not moment. De Rosario's thinking was obviously "OK, Zach Thornton's off his goalline. I have no help...Ah, screw it. What can it hurt? I'll give it a try from this ludicrous distance."
I'm guessing De Rosario had little to no expectations whatsoever of the ball actually going into the net. He was asking for a miracle. It was strictly a shot in the dark. Hell, it was barely even a shot. It was like a punt in the NFL, soaring straight up in the air, hanging there, and slowly coming down.
Thornton quickly began backpedalling, but the shot was so high and long that there was little doubt that he'd race back in time to make an easy save. Right? Right? Well, Thornton did get back in time. Technically. Oh, he was there. Unfortunately, instead of simply catching the ball, he made one ill-advised, inexplicable punch at the ball, which skimmed his fist and somehow snuck into the corner of the net. I have no idea why he didn't just catch the ball. There was no player from either team within 30 yards of him. It made no sense. Why punch the ball? And such a horrible punch it was. He looked like a drunkard in a blindfold trying to punch a fly.
The entire scene was just...weird. From Mapp's awful giveaway to Thorton's goofy mishap, the term "comedy of errors" was never more apt. I hope to never see the Fire give up such a cheap goal again, and chances are, I won't...because that was about as cheap as it gets.
Oh, well. It's over now. It's time to move on. And to be honest, perhaps the 2-2 draw was the fairest result. Neither side clearly controlled the flow of play nor had a clear advantage in the chances department. In a match pitting the second place teams from the two respective conferences, both sides were able to walk away with a deserved point. And for the Fire, who trailed after De Rosario's answered request for a miracle, the tie was a bit of a relief.
Mapp had given the Fire the lead in the 36th minute with a well-rifled low shot just inside the post. Having recently been moved into a more central midfield poistion, as opposed to on the wing, Mapp these days is looking like arguably the Fire's most creative and dangerous attacking player when he has the ball on his foot, especially his tricky left foot. However, Mapp also has a tendency to float aimlessly and look borderline, well, lazy when he doesn't have the ball, especially where defense is involved. This Mapp quote from today's Chicago Tribune bothered me:
"I'm feeling more comfortable out there in the attacking midfielder position," Mapp said. "It gives me more space and I don't have to worry about coming back on defense as much."
Um, what? He doesn't like to "worry" about defense? Really? It's a good thing the Fire is on a six-match unbeaten streak, because if Mapp ever muttered such a ludicrous and infuriating statement while the team was in a rough patch, he might run the risk of being tarred and feathered by angry Fire fans. That statement is simply absurd. If Mapp has had a weakness it's always been that he's sort of one-dimensional. He's lively in the attack, and looks good when he has the ball, but he's a liability when tracking back on defense - if he even tracks back at all. Dave Sarachan needs to explain to Mapp that, yes, defense is the responsibilty of everyone. Everyone. Especially someone positioned in the center of the midfield. Does Mapp expect the opposition to be allowed to waltz right down the center of the field simply because he's an "attacking midfielder" and defense should be left to others?
Speaking of defense and liabilities in the midfield, Nate Jaqua is completely out of place on the right side. Despite standing (I'm guesssing) 6-4, he rarely wins balls in the air, loses his man in coverage, and offers little to the attack from a position on the wing. On Dynamo's first goal, Jaqua had a chance to head the ball out of danger directly off of a freek kick, but didn't, despite marking a Dynamo player several inches shorter than him. The result was a scrum in front of the net with the ball ultimately crossing the Fire goalline for a goal that was far from pretty, nor much deserved. If Jaqua has a position most suited for him, it's coming off the bench as a striker in the second half of games. Sort of like Peter Crouch for England. When the opposing defense is tired late, send Jaqua in to cause havoc in the box. Otherwise, he offers little.
In the second half, Sarachan's hands were tied as far as substitutions go. While some may have accused him of playing it too safe and settling for the tie, he really had no choice. With Chad Barrett recently shelved for 6-8 weeks with a foot injury and Chris Rolfe seemingly never healthy, there were simply no strikers to turn to. The result was the insertion of Thiago and Brian Plotkin into the midfield. These moves weren't the sexy choice. They didn't scream of going for the jugular. But they were, really, the only options.
Of course, Sarachan may have played it safe even if did have strikers on the bench to turn to. He's been accused of such boring tactics before. In this case, however, he'll get the benefit of the doubt.
Very late in the game, Gonzalo Segares botched what would have been a beautiful game-winner and that was that. It looked like an easy chance to finish, and Segares should have done so, but as I said, the draw was probably in the cards on this night.
Fire player ratings (On a scale of 1-10; 10 being Maradona circa 1986, 1 being Landon Donovan against the Czechs in 2006.)
Zach Thornton - 6. The absolutely ridiculous goal given up to DeRosario, obviously, affects Thornton's rating here. Had he been a newbie making his first appearance for the Fire and made a mistake that comically horrendous, he would have been sent packing immediately after the game. Of course, Thornton has built up years and years of love here in Chitown, so we can laugh about it now. Thornton did make a crucial save on a De Rosario breakaway late in the game.
Tony Sanneh - 7: Both Dynamo goals were borderline lucky and not really the fault of the Fire defense. One was a free kick following a foul by (I think) Armas in the midfield, the other was De Rosario's joke of a goal. Sanneh anchored a backline that was, for the most part, solid. He was also the most lively Fire player at the end. When others seemed content to settle for the tie, Sanneh pushed forward and almost set up Calen Carr with the winner in the dying seconds with a nifty pass. As a fan sitting behind me said at that point, "Sanneh wants to win." Exactly. He wanted the full three points and you have to love that.
Dasan Robinson - 5: Robinson committed some ugly giveaways in the second half, but his hard tackling and in-your-face style meant Dynamo had few productive offensive attacks on his side of the field. Also, on Segares' ugly miss late in the game, Robinson was right there to head in the winner had Segares not botched it. Robinson could have, should have, would have been the hero for the second game in a row.
C.J. Brown - 6: Opposite Robinson on the other side of the defense, Brown likewise didn't allow much action from Dynamo on his side of the field. Unfortunately, he had to leave the game at halftime with muscle spasms.
Justin Mapp - 6: On the offensive end, Mapp is settling into his role as an attacking, central midfielder nicely. He's comfortable with the ball on his foot and creates as many chances as anyone on the Fire. Also scored the first goal. However, he needs to step it up on defense. Big time. Get in someone's face. Pressure. Make the opponent work. Dynamo's second goal was the result of a horrible Mapp giveaway, and Mapp, instead of hustling to fix his mistake, stood and watched De Rosario unleash a shot that went in and put the Fire behind 2-1. That's pure laziness.
Diego Gutierrez - 5: Gutierrez was largely unseen. He committed no clear mistakes, but also created little. Steady but unspectacular until being subbed out.
Chris Armas - 6: The Captain was his usual self, trying to force his way through Dynamo's defense with pure force if need be. He committed some giveways in midfield, but unlike Mapp, is a whirlwind on defense, never giving an opponent an inch. Mapp should watch and learn from Armas' intensity.
Nate Jaqua - 3: Jaqua is horribly out of position on the right side of midfield. At times he seems to drift completely out of the game. With his size, he needs to be up top and in the opponent's box attempting to cause damage with his head.
Ivan Guerrero - 5: For a guy who hangs out so far on the left wing and who possesses a deadly left foot, Guerrero's ability to cross is lacking. To be useful, he needs to get some crosses from the left side into the opponent's box that may lead to something. Not enough creativity coming from his side of the field. Overall, though, he wasn't bad and much better than Jaqua on the opposite side of the field.
Calen Carr - 6: As has been the case lately, Carr was involved and active. This is a good thing. However, he spends a lot of time on the ground. It's hard to tell if that's the result of him being so skinny, or if he's intentionally trying to earn free kicks after drawing penalty kicks in each of the previous two games. Midway through the second half, Carr made a splendid run right down the center of the Dynamo defense and set up Andy Herron for what should have been a goal before Herron botched it. The kid in the headband is improving.
Andy Herron - 5: Herron needs to be more involved. Plain and simple. He can look dangerous with the ball, and has found the net recently, but he didn't have nearly enough touches in this game. He also has a tendency to take an opponent one-on-one and lose the ball. It happens too often for my liking. He also needs to be more active in tracking back on defense and pressuring the opponent. Much too often the Dynamo's defenders were allowed to start their attack without Herron getting in their face. Herron did score the late equalizer via a penalty kick, but needs to find more chances in the flow of play.
Gonzalo Segares - 6: Came on for the injured Brown at halftime and looked very steady on the left side of defense, both in making his side of the field airtight and coming forward in support of the attack. A real bright spot, actually. His left foot is dangerous and I wouldn't mind seeing him move up to the left side of midfield and pushing Guerrero for his spot.
Thiago - 5: Wasn't on nearly long enough to settle into the game and make an impact. If healthy, he should probably replace Jaqua in the midfield as a starter.
Brian Plotkin - 5: Like Thiago, didn't receive a long enough run to make an impact.