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Sunday, October 25

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« Let's Play Two...PLEASE 162+1= Playoffs »

Fire Mon Sep 29 2008

Does This Team Know How Good It Can Be?

Last week, in front of a packed (but not completely full) house, the Chicago Fire rebounded from a miserable performance against FC Dallas to overwhelm the LA Galaxy 3-1. It was the Fire's best game in months and should have fans a bit more optimistic about their postseason chances. It also reminded fans just how good this team can be when it's firing on all cylinders. Just to change things up, here's a look at what went right.

Blanco and Rolfe Remember Where The Goal Is
Both Cuahtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe broke out of scoring dry spells. Blanco hadn't scored since May 25th against the Red Bulls, and Rolfe, who hit two and assisted on Blanco's goal, hadn't scored since July 12 against Toronto FC. The Fire need goals from both these players for their attack to function. Chris Rolfe's two goals put him ahead of Chad Barrett as the team's scoring leader. It was getting embarrassing having a leading scorer that had been traded to another team months ago.

Rolfe on the Right Worked - Mostly When He Wasn't On the Right
I've always felt a big part of Rolfe's scoring drought was that he's been played in midfield much of the season. On Thursday, Rolfe was played as a right midfielder again and still scored two goals. The difference? John Thorrington moved into the middle with Logan...Pause. It meant less defensive responsibilities for Rolfe allowing him to push forward and inside while Blanco would drift out to the right. Both Rolfe's first goal and his assist for Blanco came from a withdrawn striker position rather than the right side of midfield. Would the same formation work against a team with a more competitive midfield than LA's? That's tough to say. Mapp, Blanco and Rolfe need the freedom to interchange positions without having to defend too much.

The Best Eleven Players
Of course, the main argument for playing Rolfe on the right all season has been that it gets him on the field along with two more players from the Fire's very deep and talented pool of strikers. In short, it gets more good players on the field. Unfortunately, during parts of this season some odd decisions undercut that thinking. This Thursday night, the Fire finally lined up with the best eleven players on their squad: No more messing around with Andy Herron. No Lider Marmol. No more blooding youngsters like Mike Banner or Stephen King, who are ready to do a job off the bench in the playoffs but aren't quite starters yet.

...Pause Kept Landon Quiet
I've read a lot of credit given to Bakary Soumare's return for the Fire's improved defensive performance. Don't get me wrong. He deserves every bit of praise he gets. The guy is a beast. But the key defensive performance in the LA game came from Logan...Pause, who shadowed Landon Donovan all over the field, marking LA's most dangerous player out of the game.

Notice How I Haven't Mentioned Beckham?

Wait, did I just call Landon Donovan LA's most dangerous player? Wasn't David Beckham on the field? Well, other than the boos that rang out whenever he took a corner kick it was hard to tell. While his quality of passing is obviously a step above most players in the league, Becks hasn't shown that he's the kind of player that can single-handedly take over a game. If the Galaxy miss out on the playoffs for the second year in a row, it's a sad indictment of the Galaxy's failure to build a team around the league's biggest star. The good news is most of the 20,000 fans Beckham brought to the game didn't go home unhappy. They saw a good game and a great performance from the home team. In a larger sense, the whole lesson to be learned from the David Beckham experiment is that while stars can draw attention to the league, it's going to be the quality of play that keeps people coming back.

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