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Wednesday, October 21

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Fire Fri Oct 31 2008

Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

If you want the textbook definition of "stalemate," look no further than last night's 0-0 playoff tie between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire. The Revolution, missing a host of starters due to injuries and suspensions, still came out full of hustle and made life extremely difficult for the Fire's attacking players. It was a typical MLS playoff game, full of intensity, late tackles and not a lot of pretty passing. It wasn't a game to win soccer-haters or Eurosnobs over, but for fans it was gripping and intense stuff. Of course, if the league could find a way to make every game mean as much as last night's, we'd get all that plus teams that have learned how to handle the ball under pressure.

But at this point, that's beating a dead horse. With the return leg scheduled for next week at Toyota Park next week and everything still to play for, let's take a look at what's worrying and what's not so worrying for the Fire going into next week.

The Worrying Parts

Thorrington and ...Pause Are Physically Overmatched
They've got no shortage of fight in them, but I couldn't help but notice that the central midfield paring of John Thorrington and Logan...Pause looked tiny compared to New England's Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz. Size isn't the most important thing when it comes to a central midfield duo, but in a game that featured so many battles for loose balls bouncing around the midfield, the Joseph-Larentowicz pairing had a distinct advantage.

Rolfe Disappeared
One of the consequences of the pitched battle in midfield was that Chris Rolfe, so dangerous in his hat trick performance against New York last week, barely got involved in the game this week. I suspect the reason for that is the physical presence of New England's midfield made him spend a lot more time stuck on the right side of the field tracking back. I also suspect that that was a big part of the game plan for New England and will be for any team looking to neutralize the Fire's attack in the playoffs - make Rolfe defend like a right midfielder to keep him from attacking like a withdrawn forward.

Nyassi Looked Dangerous
For New England, most of their best moments actually came from the other side of the field, as Gambian midfielder Sainey Nyassi gave Gonzalo Segares a very long evening. Going back to the home opener at Toyota Park this season, Segares completely dominated the heralded young midfielder. It's a cause for concern that Nyassi has improved that much, while the Segares, who started the season so strongly, has trailed off a bit.

The Not So Worrying Parts

It Took Everything New England Had To Stop The Fire From Playing
Of course it isn't all gloom and doom for the Fire. I haven't checked them, but the message boards are probably calling for Denis Hamlet to be fired for not making more game-changing substitutions in the second half. But that misses the point. The game didn't need to be changed. A tie away from home in the playoffs is not a bad result. Moreover, in a scrappy game, the few moments of quality came from the Fire. I'm thinking of Brian McBride's diving header that was just marginally offsides and the quick interchange of passing between Gonzalo Segares and Justin Mapp which led to Mapp dissapointingly firing wildly over the bar. New England deserve credit for putting out a Herculean effort last night, but it took that much from them just to stop the Fire. Can they keep it up for two full games, or will the Fire's quality eventually show through?

The Defense Held Up
While there wasn't a lot of guile in front goal from New England, their direct style put the Fire's back four under a ton pressure at times. And the good news is that a defense that had been wobbling in the past month, held strong and posted another shutout. For all their pressure, New England really only had one serious opportunity all game. Everyone constantly repeats the old adage that defense wins championships for a reason. The Fire got back to the kind of defending that could win them a championship last night.

Home Field Advantage
Sure, I've made fun of the whole notion of home field advantage in MLS - especially in a two game playoff series. So has everyone else. But with the deciding game of the series to be played in Chicago, that number two seed doesn't look so meaningless anymore. And sure, the Fire's home record hasn't been that great this season. Still, when it comes down to it, wouldn't you rather see the Fire playing a do-or-die game in front of a home crowd? One that will be a lot more than 5,000 strong (shame on you, New England fans). While you're spending the week getting hammered by stats about the Fire constantly being knocked out of the playoffs by New England keep this in mind, none of those games happened in Chicago.

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Sgc / October 31, 2008 3:58 PM

I liked where you went at the end. The fact that New England had to play anti-football, and that the Boston Globe called a 0-0 at home a "satisfying result" shows you why one should expect Chicago to advance from this series.

KLM / October 31, 2008 4:42 PM

It's hard not to see Chicago advancing. They did what they had to do, keep the Revs from scoring at home. Now they just have to win their home match against the Revs to whom they've never lost a playoff game and beat 6-1 on aggregate in two games at home this year.

And yes, shame on the NE fans for wussing out for a cold Thursday night. There will be three times as many fans in Chicago next Thursday -- at least.

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