A furious late comeback from two goals down is wasted as the Fire surrendered a deluge of corner kicks and practically unchallenged header opportunities. The last corner kick chance was the deciding factor as CJ Brown failed to mark Brian Ching in the 85th minute. An insane second half which saw six combined goals provided some entertainment but little in terms of redemption for an awful defensive performance.
Ching scored a hat trick, thereby doubling his goal output for the season. Houston had previously been a side which was having a nightmare of a time finding the net....until tonight. The first half goal can be excused as a bit of a "garbage' goal as Ching and CJ Brown undercut Sean Johnson causing the ball to some loose.
The second half defending, particularly on set pieces was a sham. Lovell Palmer scored as a result of a free kick set up by a foul on Conde just oustide the box. Segares came out to challenge the shot but noone followed and Palmer found the lower corner of the net. After a questionable corner kick call in the 59th minute, more terrible defending allowed Boswell to bounce a header off the crossbar. Ching scored on the loose ball as he converted a spectacular bicycle kick for the third Houston score. The winning play found an international player known for his ability in the air completely unmarked in front of the net.
The Fire did appear to be energized by the insertion of Calen Carr (yes that Calen Carr) and Patrick Nyarko in the 60th minute. Nyarko's return is a welcome sight for a team that sorely needs his creative ability to counter any over reliance on Ljungberg.
It's difficult to rate any defenders highly after this match.
GK Sean Johnson (5) - Allowed four goals but had a few nice saves early to keep Houston off the board. I thought he could have done better on Palmer's shot but it's a tall order order to ask your goalkeeper to continually stop uncontested headers and clean looks on net.
D Wilman Conde (4) - Scored on a header to tie the match at 3-3 but committed several silly fouls. One leading to Palmer's goal and another leading to a yellow card which will cause him to miss the Seattle match next Saturday.
D CJ Brown (3) - Ching roamed free in the box along with the entire Houston team for the entire match. Brown was a step slow today possibly due to playing a full 90 on Wednesday. The winning goal was inexcusable.
D Dasan Robinson (4) - Several give aways before being substituted due to an apparent injury in the 42nd minute.
D Gonzalo Segares (4) - The entire defense struggled mightily. Segares gave up too much space to Danny Cruz one too many times.
M Logan Pause (4) - Houston controlled possession for long stretches of the first half. The Fire's midfield was powerless to counter them for the most part until Nyarko entered the match.
M Baggio Husidic (4) - Husidic struggled to maintain possession and gave up several uncontested turnovers in the first half. The second half was better but not by much.
M Marco Pappa (4) - Fairly invisible for most of the match. The addition of Ljungberg is limiting his touches and he seems to be having a hard time adjusting to it.
M Nery Castillo (3) - He's not a left midfielder right now. Castillo would have been better served to enter the match as a second half sub in light of the fact that he is still in pre-season form.
M/F - Freddie Ljungberg (6) - Continued to be the best player on the pitch for the Fire. Absent early as Houston controlled the ball in the first half, but the thought of him combining with a healthy Nyarko is promising. Came alive in the second half.
F Brian McBride (4) - Very little from McBride tonight as Houston rendered him silent. Resorted to chasing the ball in the midfield due to the ineffectiveness of the team in the first half.
D Steve Kinney (5) - An improvement over Robinson after coming in for him in the 42nd minute but was still on the pitch for three goals allowed.
M Calen Carr (6) - Entered the game after half time for Castillo and was actually more impressive than the Fire's DP. Carr scored a goal for the second consecutive week and almost had another in the 72nd minute as his one v one shot with Onstad just went wide.
F Patrick Nyarko (6) - The Fire has sorely missed his playmaking ability and his impact was clearly noticeable after coming on in the 60th minute for McBride. De Los Cobos' line up decisions next week will be interesting since Nyarko needs to be on the field as much as possible as soon as possible.
The Fire travel to Seattle next Saturday for the first leg of the Ljungberg cup. The Sounders come to Chicago for the rematch on September 25.
On a positive note, there was an excellent turnout at The Pitch. On the pitch was not so good.