The Fire probably played well enough to earn a tie against one of the league's top sides but a relapse into the team that blundered it's way through the first eleven matches of the season ultimately made the difference. After allowing two set piece goals, the second of which was next to inexcusable the Fire finds themselves facing some of the same difficult questions that were bandied about when Carlos De Los Cobos was in charge behind the bench.
Certainly the defensive improvement over the last seven matches has been tangible and evident but the team's ability to lose focus at inopportune times has apparently not been completely corrected. Los Angeles' first goal came as a result of a silly and unnecessary foul along the touchline which allowed David Beckham to take a free kick in a dangerous area. The ensuing free kick found Landon Donovan at the back post for a relatively unchallenged header.
The second goal, an "olympico" from Beckham bounced into the net directly from a corner kick as Jalil Anibaba stepped in front of Sean Johnson in an attempt to mark Omar Gonzalez. Johnson's delayed reaction to the ball was a result of some trepidation on the 'keepers part. “I saw the goalkeeper cheating a little bit, going towards out of the goal, and I saw a little bit of a gap and I knew if I put in an area it was going to a get a touch off somebody or it was going to go straight it. Luckily it went straight in," said Beckham after the match.
The questions remain regarding the Fire's central midfield and the team's inability to move forward via anything other than an individual effort or a counter attack long ball to one of the outside wings. The team continues to struggle to complete passes in midfield and the problem is progressively worse as the ball gets closer to the opposing goal. The problem was evident as De Los Cobos tried to implement his one-two touch passing system and continues to be a source of major concern as Klopas tries to change on the fly to adapt to the talents of the players on the current roster. Unfortunately nothing will change until a player capable of orchestrating an offensive attack is added to the roster.
If that player is indeed Sebastian Grazzini (reports out of Argentina claim the deal has been signed), can he adapt and integrate himself into the team in time to make a significant impact? Will he be able to learn the tendencies and runs of the players joining him in the attack in a matter of days? If the Fire are to make a move for a post season spot Grazzini will need to learn MLS in a hurry. With only fifteen matches remaining in the regular season, the Fire don't have much time for waiting to find out.
GK Sean Johnson (5) - A delayed reaction to Beckham's corner kick goal ultimately decided the game as Los Angeles was able to collect all three points despite being outshot 14-8.
D Jalil Anibaba (6) - Did force Saunders into a save with a long distance shot that skipped before reaching the net in the 49th minute. Nearly connected on what would have been the Fire's first goal of the season from a corner kick in the 45th minute but his header attempt sailed wide. Subbed out in the 77th in favor of an attacker. Still needs to improve his passing.
D Cory Gibbs (6) - Angel, Cardozo, and Lopez were fairly quiet for most of the night as the Fire center backs turned in another decent effort.
D Yamith Cuesta (6) - Blocked several shots in the box during the first half after some early scrambling to get back into position in the penalty area.
D Gonzalo Segares (5) - He was the victim of the Donovan goal as a result of the free kick in the 59th minute. Donovan got up over Segares with little challenge.
M Patrick Nyarko (7) - Easily the Fire's man of the match. Dangerous on the wings for the entire game until receiving an ugly and unnecessary foul from Chris Birchall in extra time. Created chances on individual effort in the first half before placing a picture perfect ball into Nazirit for the Fire's only score in the 62nd minute.
M Logan Pause (5) - Committed the unnecessary foul along the touchline in the 59th minute which set up Beckham's service into Donovan on the free kick for the first goal. Pause does what he is asked to do and he does it relatively well but his skill set unfortunately does not allow for support where the team is most lacking offensively. Moved to right back late in the game as the team pressed for an equalizer.
M Daniel Paladini (5) - Took over corner kick duties from the left side and some of the service was a slight improvement over previous efforts. Paladini can be a solid MLS player, he's just not the difference maker or field general that the team sorely lacks in this position on the pitch.
M Marco Pappa (5) - Silent for most of the night as a few long distance attempts were easily handled by Saunders. In games like these it's incumbent upon Pappa to step up and attempt to make a difference, unfortunately it was Nyarko that took the reins and attempted to be the difference maker. Subbed out in the 82nd minute.
F Dominic Oduro (5) - Marked out of the match for the most part due to physical marking and positioning by Galaxy defenders. Los Angeles plays too smart too consistently get beat on long balls, which negated the Fire's speed up top. The Galaxy's game plan included getting physical with both Oduro and Nyarko and it paid off as referee David Gantar allowed it for most of the day.
F Cristian Nazirit (6) - I'll give him credit for putting away the shot and cashing in on the chance in the 62nd minute but he was invisible for long stretches. Wasn't really heard from again after the goal. Is that due to lack of service from midfield?
M Diego Chaves (5) - Took a yellow card after coming in for Anibaba in the 77th minute but his most memorable moment may have been coming to the defense of Nyarko in extra time after Birchall's hard foul. Oduro also raced over immediately to protest the play and Josip Mikulic was shown a red card for protesting from the bench.
M Orr Barouch (5) - Entered the game for Pappa in the 82nd but made little impact.
M Bratislav Ristic (NR) - Came in for a hobbled Nyarko in extra time with only seconds remaining.
C Frank Klopas (5) - The game plan nearly worked if not for the recurrence of sloppy defending on set pieces. The team will continue to fight but Klopas has to realize that pieces of the puzzle are still missing. “You can see in the first one that our marking was not good. We lost the guys. [Landon] Donovan is not the biggest guy but the movement was good but we just lost the marking. In the second one I have to look at it more but I feel that is it is a mistake from us,”said Klopas.
“I am very happy with the guys. We didn’t deserve to lose this game. I thought we out played them and out shot them. But we hurt ourselves with the set pieces. I think we gave way too many fouls through out the game and those were there dangerous moments. In the run of play they didn’t create anything. We out shot them 5-1 in saves so we definitely created clear opportunities in the run of play. We didn’t put the game away and when you give opportunities from set pieces to probably the player that is the best in the world at that we put ourselves in risk but we should have done better with the marking. I am happy and very proud of the guys. We came, we played away, we played a very good game and we pushed the game to win and in the end it is just one game it’s not the end of the season.”
The US Open Cup quarterfinals against the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park on Tuesday night.