Heading into Friday night's game against the L.A. Galaxy, Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett knew to watch out for the Los Angeles counterattack.
"They're a very good counterattacking team," Hamlett said of the Galaxy. "They have some good guys [that will] test out our back four."
But knowledge isn't always power, and the Galaxy proved that at the Home Depot Center tonight, scoring a counterattacking goal to defeat the Fire 1-0. The Fire got off to a slow start in the match and the Galaxy dominated the first ten minutes, controlling the ball and the early chances.
The first opportunity of the match came in the 19th minute when forward Landon Donovan lashed a half volley from just outside the box wide of the left post. The Galaxy continued attacking and the nearly went ahead in the 22nd minute but Chris Klein saw his shot from the right side of the box parried away by Fire keeper Jon Busch.
The Fire began to settle down after Klein's first chance and they eventually created some opportunities of their own. The first chance came in the 26th minute, but no one connected with Justin Mapp's cross that flashed across the face of the Galaxy goal.
The Fire kept the pressure on L.A. for the next 15 minutes, but all their work was undone in the 42nd, when Donovan put the Galaxy ahead for good. After the Galaxy cleared a Fire corner kick, Chris Klein found a streaking Donovan with a nice long ball. Donovan received the pass in stride and promptly knocked Fire midfielder Logan Pause off the ball, giving him all the time and space needed to comfortably chip the ball over the head of Busch.
The start of the second half saw both teams continue to push for an all important goal. The Fire had the first opportunity of the second frame but - after a great play by Patrick Nyarko to lay the ball off - Marco Pappa took one touch too many and hit an awkward left-footed shot wide of the net.
The Galaxy slowed the play down a little bit after Pappa's botched effort and neither team saw any real chances of note until the 75th minute, when Donovan forced Busch to make a very nice save with a blistering left footed volley.
The Fire really put the pressure on in the last 15 minutes and they were gifted a great chance in the 85th, when Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts handled a Chris Birchall back pass in the box, giving the Fire an indirect free kick from 15 yards. But the opportunity ended in nothing as Galaxy substitute Mike Magee alertly took the ball after Brian McBride put it into play by placing his foot on it.
That chance wouldn't be the last for the Fire though and they came agonizingly close to equalizing in stoppage time after a corner kick scrum saw the ball fall to Stefan Dimitrov just 5 yards from goal. But Dimitrov was unable to get enough on his sliding shot and it was cleared off the line by a Galaxy defender, effectively ending the match.
The Fire is now winless in their last five matches, not a good sign for a team that should soon be heading into the postseason.
And as always, here are a few questions for you guys...
**1 - Who was your Fire Man of the Match?**
For me it was Wilman Conde. The big central defender may have left the game in the 78th minute, but prior to his exit he was a beast, winning every ball that came his way.
**2 - How much does the winless streak concern you?**
As I mentioned earlier, the Fire has now failed to register a victory in their last five matches. This comes as a big time concern for me. Obviously the Fire need to win games to advance in the playoffs and it would be good to see the team post some wins to wrap up the regular season. Oh and they need the victories too, they are only four points ahead of the third place Revolution...
**3 - What did you think about the attack tonight?**
After scoring four goals in their last two games, the Fire was held to nothing Friday night. But L.A.'s clean sheet wasn't due to a lack of chances for the Fire, who created a good amount of opportunities throughout the match. No, the shutout was mainly a product of the Fire being unable to finish their chances. The Fire need to improve this facet of this game greatly if they want to end their winless streak...