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Fire Tue Apr 17 2012

Fire Draw Dynamo in Short Match

The Chicago Fire returned to league play Sunday night at Toyota Field against the Houston Dynamo, drawing 1-1 in a match that was twice delayed by lightning before being called after the second delay in the 66th minute.

It was a good sign from the Fire against one of the league's better teams, though you have to wonder if they could have done more with a full 90 against a sluggish Houston club that showed a little rust, having played their last game on March 23rd.

Things started out well for the home squad, as they came out with their foot on the gas despite the heavy rain at kickoff and were menacing the box of Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall. Their best chance came when speedy forward Dominic Oduro slipped onto the end of a pass from Patrick Nyarko, but his shot went right at the 'keeper for an easy save.

Despite all the pressure (and many Houston turnovers), the Dynamo actually sprung free for the lead after play resumed following a 70 minute delay in the 13th minute. Breaking out, the ball went to veteran forward Brian Ching, (the best hold-up striker in the league). Corralling the ball while attracting defenders, Ching laid off a through-ball for the onrushing Will Bruin who blasted a shot past a helpless Sean Johnson in the 24th minute. The Fire goalkeeper was returning to net following his stint with the U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team, and while he didn't face much pressure besides the goal (that shot was the only one on goal in the game for Houston), he seemed comfortable in his return.

The lead was short-lived however, as Chicago tied up the game with a fortuitous bounce in the 27th, following a foul on Patrick Nyarko just outside the box. Midfielder Pavel Pardo lined up to take the kick, and due to luck (or the settling of a personal slight), his shot was blasted straight at Logan Pause--who turned to shield his body, letting the ball knock off his back, curl up towards the crossbar and glance off the underside of the crossbar past a trying-so-hard-to-recover-but-really-just-looking-silly Tally Hall.

The chances after that were few and far between, and after another strike of lightning was seen in the area in the second half, the match was delayed and eventually called a 1-1 finish after the 66th minute. On the whole, it was an encouraging performance, but considering Houston was missing key midfielder Brad Davis and on the road, it's a game the Fire will regret not getting the full three points from down the line. Houston is regularly one of the top teams in the league, and if you can capitalize on an off night for them, you need to do so. Another worrying angle is the lack of goals; through four games the Fire have yet to get more than a single notch in their belt. Which brings us to other news...

In the last day of the first league transfer period, Chicago signed former Fire forward Chris Rolfe. The diminutive 29 year-old has been playing in Denmark's top league for Aalborg BK since leaving Chicago in 2009. Before going to Europe, Rolfe scored 40 goals in 149 appearances for the Fire, and he's still young and fit enough to have an impact on a Fire squad in need of goals--except for one issue that I'm curious to see get worked out.

Currently, Chicago carries five midfielders that can start on the field in Pause, Pardo, Sebastian Grazzini, Marco Pappa, and Daniel Paladini. They also list Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro as F/M, though Nyarko is the only one that occasionally plays back a bit as a withdrawn forward. In any case, that's a solid 6-7 guys taking up starting spots, with a four-man backline needed as well.

Will Rolfe solely be competing with Nyarko and Oduro for a striker's role, or will he be content to be a "super sub", coming on for whoever runs out of gas first in the 60-70th minutes? Or will head coach Frank Klopas take off one of those key four midfielders (Pause, Pardo, Grazzini, Pappa) for a three-pronged attack? One thing we've seen already this season is Pause slotted into defense when injuries weakened the thin corps early in the season, but his lack of comfort there showed.

Chris Rolfe is certainly due his warm welcome back to the Windy City, but I wonder if he's as anxious as I am about where he'll fit in this 2012 Chicago Fire squad.

 
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