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Fire Wed Jul 23 2008

The Season So Far

Calling this the All-Star break is a bit of a misnomer. The Fire actually play against the Kansas City Wizards this Sunday and no MLS squad without Gonzalo Segares can really be called an All-Star team. Still it’s as good a time as easy to talk about the Fire’s performance over the first half of the season.

And you know what? It’s all gone surprisingly not badly. Keep in mind the Fire lost their coach, their starting goalkeeper, and their captain during the offseason. Still, the Fire started the season incredibly well, going 6-2-2 up until June. And even the traditional summer slump is more of a blip that’s sent them from first place to third rather than the black hole of suck it was last year. After all, the team is undefeated in its last four league games. They’ve only won one of those, but still…

One thing that's really struck me about the team this season though - this is not a team that's happy to settle for a draw at home.

Finishing chances continues to be the Fire’s biggest problem. Ever since Ante Razov, the Fire have failed to find a striker that can score double digits in a season. Let it be known, 2008 will go down as the year I became a Chad Barrett defender. But he still misses too many chances and lets those misses effect the rest of his game. The Fire can’t pin as much of their attacking hopes on him as they have this season.

Meanwhile, the guy they should be expecting to do the bulk of their goalscoring, Chris Rolfe, has spent a large part of the season playing on the right side of midfield. Thankfully, it looks like that experiment is finally over. John Thorrington has made that spot his own and Stephen King deputizing for him during his recent suspension leaving Rolfe up front. I’ll say this for Rolfe. He played in the midfield and did all the dirty work that came with it without complaint. Even though it couldn’t have helped his national team chances, the guy put his team first. But now it’s time to see what he can do as an out and out striker.

In the midfield, the possession play and passing has improved. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with Blanco, but Logan…Pause deserves a lot of the credit too. In addition to his defensive work, …Pause has done a great job making the simple one and two touch passes that keep the play flowing and let the more creative players shine. It’s not a coincidence that the Fire’s slump started coincided with an injury to …Pause. This season he’s become the glue that holds the team together.

Oddly, the Fire’s biggest weakness has been on the left side of midfield, traditionally a strength. With Ivan Guerrero gone, there’s very little depth there in case Justin Mapp doesn’t feel like playing. And sadly, that’s looked like the case a lot this season. Oddly, Mapp has shown a few glimmers of life in recent matches and they’ve mostly come late in games when he’s switched to the right side. Hopefully, the addition of Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pablo Pappa will improve the depth there.

There isn’t a lot bad to say about the defense. Conde’s back for now and is easily the best defender in the league. Bakare Soumare is still raw, but he’s a monster and only going to get better. You know my feelings on Gonzalo Segares. And Brandon Prideux has surprised everyone by earning and keeping a starting spot at the expense of some very good players. Rookie Daniel Woolard has impressed in his first two starts, and you know you can count on Diego Gutierrez when you need him. Poor CJ Brown has barely gotten a game in since he was named captain, but he’s still managing to collect red cards. And Jon Busch has been incredible.

A quick word about the team in general. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Fire team so unwilling to settle for a tie at home. Piling numbers forward late in the game hasn’t always worked. The Fire failed to score in the Real Salt Lake despite a virtual siege in the last 20 minutes. And it actually backfired against DC United when they gave up a late counter-attack goal. But regardless of results, I’d much rather be a fan of a team that really goes for it at home. And when it does pay off, like with John Thorrington’s injury time winner against Toronto FC, it’s the kind of thing that reminds you why became a fan after all.

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