Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
U.S. Open Cup Semifinals
Fire 3 D.C. United 0
The Fire's unbeaten streak has reached eight games, seven of those being wins. And if you like exclamation points then last night's 3-0 drubbing of DC United in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals was exactly that. Tell me that scoreline didn't look real snazzy when you looked in the paper this morning. You know it did. That's a rout, baby.
Unfortunately, as one might expect between these two Eastern Conference powers and their growing rivalry, the game turned ugly in the second half and Chris Armas picked up a red card, meaning he'll miss the Final against the Los Angeles Galaxy on September 27. In the meantime, though, the Fire can take solace in producing such a lopsided win againt the team with the best record in the league, not to mention one coached by Peter Nowak, the former Fire player and legend. Impressivley, the Fire will be aiming for it's fourth U.S. Open Cup title in only its ninth year of existence. That's a phenomenal record of success.
The Fire will also be aiming for the first half of this year's "double" (ie, winning both the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup.) You've gotta think big. You've gotta believe. Right? Right.
In the first half the game went exactly as you might expect. It was tight, neither team able to control the flow of play and the Fire producing only a couple of half-chances, but nothing too serious. In fact, the loudest cheers from the crowd probably occurred when Armas, built like a tank as he is, shouldered Freddy Adu off the ball in a manner that was clean but done with brute force. Armas took off with the ball and Adu was left in a whimpering puddle on the ground with his arms in the air and an expression on of his face of shock and dismay sent in the ref's direction, a look Adu wears often, a little too often.
Justin Mapp finally got the Fire on the board in the 58th minute with a goal centered on grace under a presssure. Taking a long ball from Armas that arched over the DC defense, Mapp muscled past a defender, calmly took a couple of touches and carefully slotted the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper, Troy Perkins. A lesser player may have rushed things and flubbed the chance.
In fact, grace under pressure was the hallmark of all three Fire goals on this night, the second coming from Calen Carr in the 75th minute. After Nate Jaqua got his head to a high free kick on the left side of the field and directed it to the center - hey, do you remember what I keep saying about Jaqua and using his height as a striker and not a midfielder? - Carr ran onto the pass and calmly rifled a shot into the left side of the net. So, so pretty. 2-0 Fire and the Final was now within smelling distance.
Only a minute later, however, things got ugly. DC defender Facundo Erpen took down Thiago from behind with a brutally dity foul, clearly a moment of angry frustration, the sort of heinous and uneccesary foul that too often mars the game of soccer. Total garbage. Armas took exception and confronted Erpen, which resulted in a melee between the two teams that was quickly broken up. But Armas and Erpen both received red cards for the efforts. Knowing this would suspend him for the final, Armas was visibly upset immediately, pounding the ground and putting his hands on his head. At 34, the Captain knows he only has so many chances for championships left in his career and missing the Final will certainly bug him to no end.
Naturally, Erpen's cheap foul made Carr's second goal in the 90th minute that much more sweet. Exclamation point! And again, it was the result of grace under pressure. After Ivan Guerrero nicely juked a defender on the goalline, his low cross found Carr, who instead of rushing a first-time shot, trapped the ball, beat one man with a quick cut to his left, and easily beat Perkins to the left side of the net. Game. Set. Match.
While a win over DC United wasn't overly shocking, the 3-0 scoreline was. Did anyone see that coming? I didn't think so. Of course, as I mentioned following the win over New York over the weekend, Fire coach Dave Sarachan seems to have an aura of luck about him at the mement and it certainly helped on this night that two of DC's best players, Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian, did not play. Certainly, they would have made a difference. But hey, no excuses. The Fire looked like the better team throughout and DC rarely seriously threatened. The fire deserved to advance and they will.
So onto the Final.
Here we go now.
Incidentally, I happened to spot Peter Wilt at the game sitting where you might expect: not in a luxury box, but among the fans. (At least I'm almost positive it was him.) Wearing a Fire jersey and a Fire cap, he was sitting at midfield at the top of the lower level on the west side of the stadium. Just like any other ordinary Fire fan at the game. You gotta love that. I may never know what exactly happened with Wilt and why, shockingly, his time as the architect and drive behind the Fire came to an end, but it's clear his heart and soul is still with the team. Class guy.
Player ratings (On a scale of 1-10; 10 being Maradona circa 1986, 1 being Landon Donovan against the Czechs in 2006.)
Matt Pickens - 5: After his heroic performance against New York over the weekend, Pickens looked to be up to more of the same in the first half. However, he looked frighteningly shaky more than once in the second and was lucky not to surrended the equalizer, particularly on one lazy cross that somehow slipped directly through his hands was luckily cleared off the line. Maybe consistency is something he needs to work on. Overall, not bad. He earned the shutout - but not without making the hearts of Fire fans skip a few beats.
CJ Brown - 7: The vet was back in the lineup and looked his usual steady self. Very few problems from the DC offense came in Brown's area of the field.
Jim Curtin - 7: The tall, skinny redhead was finally back on the field and wasted little time asserting himself right back into the center of the defense. Amazingly, very little rust was evident and he looked cool, calm, and collected at all times. Also, his height and head were a welcome return on free kicks.
Gonzalo Segaro - 6: Helped orchestrate the shutout from his left back position so no major complaints, but he did look a tad shaky on a few occasions where he was reduced to chasing a man who had beaten him. He recovered nicely on each occasion, but you'd like to see him avoid those situations in the first place. But overall, a solid job.
Ivan Guerrero - 6: Performed his usual job, hanging out wide left and trying to create offense from there, which he was succesful at, including a beautiful run to set up Carr's second goal.
Chris Armas - 6: The Captain, as usual, was in control of everything in the center of the field. Unfortunatly, he picked up a red card and will miss the Final. On the one hand, you like to see Armas standing up for a teammate (Thiago) who was taken down in such a dirty manner. On the other hand, you'd also like to see a bit more restraint from a vet who has been through so many of these wars before. But if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt, it's Armas.
Diego Gutierrez - 6: Quiet, steady. Nothing spectacular from his defensive midfielder role, but DC's overall lack of offense on the night speaks volumes about the job Gutierrez (and the Fire defense as a whole) did.
Thiago - 6: The diminutive Brazilian looked to be more and more involved in the Fire's attack. Hopefully, he's becoming more comfortable after returning from injury recently.
Justin Mapp - 6: Scored the first goal, but wasn't nearly as involved in the offense as he has been recently. He works best in the center as an attacking midfielder, but at times last night he was back out on the right flank, where he is far less effective. Finding his lasting role will be a key down the stretch of the season.
Calen Carr - 7: It wasn't just the two goals he scored. It was the calm, cool manner in which he scored both that made them truly memorable. His confidence is growing. The kid continues to ease into a major role on the team, which is all the more impressive considering he was being shuffled between a striker position and the right side of midfield. Regardless of where he plays, he's active and lively, and that will find him a spot.
Nate Jaqua - 6: Began the game on the right side of midfield, which was not good, and never is. Thankfully, he moved back to striker in the second half and - surprise, surprise! - set up the second goal with his noggin. This is what he does. Let him do it.
Logan Pause - 6: Came on in the 73rd minute so had little time to make much of an impact. But really, he was only being called upon to come in and further solidify the defensive aspect of the midfield, which he did. No complaints.