Well that was unexpected.
The Fire now have an opportunity to turn what seemed like a complete loss of a 2011 season just a few short weeks ago into a memorable campaign. A huge win in Real Salt Lake and the return of Marco Pappa's scoring touch has re-ignited playoff hopes ahead of next Tuesday's US Open Cup Final in Seattle. The win raises the team's record to 7-8-15 and pushes the Fire to within three points of the New York Red Bulls for the tenth and final playoff spot. The three goal victory margin also improves the Fire's goal differential to zero. Important because of possible tie-breaking scenarios in order to qualify for post season.
However, Frank Klopas' job is now a little more complicated over the next 6 days. After hinting that some regulars could get a rest against Houston on Saturday, the Fire's interim coach now has a legitimate shot at the playoffs to consider when penciling in his line-up this weekend. A chance to win a trophy on Tuesday will probably remain the priority considering that playing in altitude at RSL followed by another match in Texas heat just three days later will certainly push the starters to the limit. Of course it helps that RSL was chasing the match most of the night after Kyle Beckerman's silly head butt against Daniel Paladini so the starters may have had a small bit of relief as a result of playing a man up for 80 minutes.
This victory, on the road against a strong Real Salt Lake side, without Sebastian Grazzini as impressive as it was is just a first step. The next two matches over the next six days will define the season, possibly turning 2011 into much more than anyone foresaw.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - After playing brilliantly over the last two matches but allowing four goals Johnson was rewarded with a clean sheet. A few near misses by Saborio early certainly helped.
D Dan Gargan (6) - Embroiled with Espindola for most of the first half, Gargan did well to goad the RSL forward into continuous fouls and frustration.
D Josip Mikulic (5) - After a first half that saw him blow two offside traps allowing Saborio to almost score twice Mikulic settled down in the second before being subbed out in the 69th with apparent cramping. Several fine sliding tackles.
D Cory Gibbs (6) - Solid in the middle. Stopped through balls from getting to RSL forwards on more than one occasion.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) - Good in possession as the Fire were looking to make RSL chase after going down a man. Not a whole lot coming from the opposing outside players either.
M Pavel Pardo (7) - Classy turn and assist that led Pappa to goal number two. Fire has control of RSL's quality midfield but being up a man certainly helped. Pro.
M Logan Pause (6) - Seems more lively than ever in his new role.
M Daniel Paladini (6) - Nice touch to Pappa leading to the first goal and of course he was the recipient of the head butt that changed the course of this match for good.
M Marco Pappa (8) - A stellar effort from Pappa after offensively going missing for the last three months. All three goals were class efforts. The first one was even taken with his right foot. Undoubtedly should be MLS player of the week unless someone has a superhuman effort this weekend. It should also be noted that Pappa's resurgence came without Sebastian Grazzini on the pitch. The ball is on Pappa's foot less in dangerous spots when the Argentine is on the field.
F Patrick Nyarko (6) - Continues his dangerous play from the forward spot although he didn't figure into the score sheet. Cross nearly found Oduro for a goal in the 17th.
F Dominic Oduro (6) - Managed to get several shots off only to be denied by Rimando on each of them. A 43rd minute strike was well taken and easily could have hit the back of the net if not for a spectacular diving save from the RSL keeper.
D Jalil Anibaba (6) - Came on for Mikulic in the 69th. RSL rarely threatened with the exception of one set play in the 77th where about four players were offside.
D Mike Videira (5) - Came in for Gargan in the 78th.
M Corben Bone (5) - Hey look it's Corben Bone.
C Frank Klopas (6) - At the helm of an excellent result. Moved Pappa into a more central role with Nyarko and Pause on his sides with Paladini and Pardo behind him after the red card. This could be the most satisfying match of the year so far.
At Houston on Saturday afternoon and Klopas will have some interesting line up decisions to make.