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Fire Tue Jun 07 2011

Scoreless Draw is Step Forward for Fire

Thumbnail image for fire crest.jpgThe Chicago Fire took their first step forward under interim coach Frank Klopas on Saturday night at Toyota Park, managing a scoreless draw with the Seattle Sounders. Despite the positives that can and should be taken by shutting out one of the better attacking teams in the league, at the end of the day their lack of offensive output means another missed chance at taking three points -- something they've done only once this 1-4-7 season.

I'll leave the American frustration with tie games -- especially 0-0 ties -- for another time. But with a new coach at the helm, this draw is more helpful than most, even as it extends the winless streak to 10 games.

At the very least, this wasn't a loss. It keeps the team treading water while allowing the coaches the chance to evaluate an entire 90-minute performance and look for measurable signs of progress. In that vein, Klopas has to be happy with a few things he saw Saturday night.

Like a coach under the gun should, he first focused on shoring up the defense. Yes, the Fire are doing far too much tying and not enough winning, but the last thing you want to do is go all-in and play a high-risk game of strong attacks and weak defense. Better to keep the ship afloat with an emphasis on preventing goals and have confidence that your offense will provide enough.

With that in mind, word out of the Fire camp this week was that Klopas was switching from a zonal marking system on set pieces to a man-to-man defense, entrusting each defender to take full responsibility for his mark.

Seattle (5-4-6) only had five corner kicks the entire match (itself a defensive stat to brag about), and were unable to find their man every time. It was a marked improvement for a Chicago team that's given up seven goals against on set pieces already this year.

Offensively, however, the Fire were a bit lackluster, especially in the second half. Despite the box score showing seven shots on goal, most of these were little trouble for a goalkeeper as experienced as Seattle's Kasey Keller.

One strong effort from midfielder Daniel Paladini in the first half looked headed for the top left corner, but the pace of the shot left something to be desired and allowed Keller to extend with a full dive and push it away.

But as far as offense goes, I'm not too worried about it right now. One of the biggest playmakers for Chicago this year (in terms of setup and finishing) has been Marco Pappa, who despite the young age of 23 came into his own last year as the team's leading scorer and picked up right where he left off this year, bagging a team-high four goals so far. He's no league superstar, capable of controlling entire games by himself, but on the Fire, he's their most creative engine on the attack.

But with Guatemala beginning the CONCACAF Gold Cup this weekend, Pappa will miss the next few MLS games. Simply put, without him there, it's natural to expect the Fire offense to lose some of its potency.

Thankfully, the next couple of games for Chicago shouldn't be especially tough, starting with Thursday's visit to Kansas City, the only team with fewer points in the MLS standings. But then, when you're near the bottom of the table, almost every opponent is going to present a challenge for you.

Regardless, soccer is, on the whole, a season of slow changes. It's not easy to suddenly turn the ship around over the course of one or two matches. As long as Klopas focuses on keeping the lid on defense, wins will come in time.

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