During a weekend that saw the Eastern Conference display surprising dominance over their Western counterparts, the Fire were presented with an opportunity to make a statement. A win could have moved them into second place in the Eastern table trailing only Sporting Kansas City. Granted, it's too early in the season to seriously look at standings but the best teams find ways to scratch out results when an opportunity arises (Sporting managed their fourth win last night against a Chivas team intent on playing eleven men behind the ball). A win or even a draw could have generated the sort of confidence or swagger that teams like Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake currently display. Results in difficult conditions serve notice to the competition that your club is a force to be reckoned with no matter the circumstances.
The only statement that can be made after this result is that the team still has a ways to go before they can be seriously considered as a challenger for anything more than just a playoff spot.
Colorado came into the match with some uncertainty in the line-up. Pablo Mastroeni is considering retirement after suffering through concussion issues, Martin Rivero was making his MLS debut, and Conor Casey is still not fully recovered from an achilles injury. However, coach Oscar Pareja wisely realized that attempting to play his preferred 4-3-3 alignment would work in the opposition's favor and flooded his midfield with a 4-2-3-1 line up that effectively shut down the Fire's attack. The pace of center back Marvell Wynne also allowed him to stay close to Dominic Oduro as the Fire continued to play hopeful long balls when the midfield play became sloppy and lost it's shape in the second half.
That being said, there's no reason to panic just yet. It's one loss on the road and the Rapids aren't a terrible side but the Fire were thoroughly outplayed for much of the match and offered little in terms of challenging on the defensive side of the ball when Colorado maintained possession for long stretches (61% to 39% for the game). There's a long way to go and there should be enough quality on this team to begin picking up results but this game illustrates that there still needs to be a plan B when teams stack the midfield and corral Oduro.
GK Paolo Tornaghi (5) - Played a decent match up until second half stoppage time when he allowed a rebound from a 25 yard shot to escape him resulting in Colorado's second score. Still had some good moments with a big save in the 11th minute on Cascio's shot and another diving effort to thwart Rivero from distance in the 65th. Did allow another rebound from a long distance attempt in the 62nd that was cleared away. The second goal may have opened the door for Sean Johnson's return to the starting spot.
D Gonzalo Segares (5) - Played Oduro into the box early to earn a corner kick, and blasted a long distance shot that earned another corner in the 42nd. His cross in the 66th minute narrowly missed Grazzini on a run into the box but he was beaten down the field by Brian Mullan in the 58th minute resulting in the Rapids first score.
D Jalil Anibaba (5) - Cleared several balls out of danger throughout the match. Unnecessarily knocked a rebound shot away with no Rapids within reach resulting in a corner kick in the 62nd, visibly angering Pardo. Missed marking Cummings (along with Gibbs and Pause) on the first goal.
D Cory Gibbs (4) - Had the opportunity to pick up Cummings as Mullan charged down the right side line in the 58th minute but laid back allowing too much space to Colorado's only real scoring threat. Also reacted slowly and stopped in his tracks after Hill's intial shot from distance was blocked by Tornaghi. Hill raced by the idle defender to pick up the rebound.
D Logan Pause (5) - Filled in for Gargan on the right side and was adequate defensively but some effort and order was missing in midfield without him. His one cross attempt in the 12th minute was awful.
M Rafael Robayo (4) - If he's looking to impress Euro scouts this season in hopes of landing a big deal in 2013, this was a step backwards. Seemed lost and ineffective for almost all of the 61 minutes he played before being replaced by Paladini. Nearly invisible on both sides of the ball and tended to float inside too much.
M Pavel Pardo (5) - Corner kick service was decent but long pass attempts to Oduro were handled easily by the Colorado defense.
M Sebastian Grazzini (5) - A couple of reckless fouls on Larentowicz earned him a yellow card but at least he appeared to be fighting, which is more than can be said for other midfielders. Found himself moving the ball forward with nowhere to go all too often in the second half.
M Marco Pappa (4) - After an excellent first half against Philadelphia Pappa reverted to the habit of hanging around in the middle of the field clogging passing lanes and launching long distance prayers. A long distance attempt in the 2nd minute was handled easily by Pickens, a deep blast in the 27th was blocked and created a counter attack chance, a try from 25 yards out in the 57th was blocked when Oduro was available in the box and resulted in the Colorado scoring play, another 30 yard attempt on the 61st was blocked, and yet another this time from 40 yards out was collected easily in the 68th before being removed for Puppo in the 78th. Best moment came in the 37th when his long pass on the ground found a streaking Oduro forcing a Pickens save. Why did he take the corner kick from the right side in the 35th?
F Patrick Nyarko (5) - Did not manage to create the chances that he typically does with Colorado clogging the midfield area but did manage to break down defenders on more than one occasion, unfortunately Fire attackers were typically standing around when he did.
F Dominic Oduro (5) - Shadowed by one of the few defenders in MLS who can stay close to him in a foot race for most of the night. His pace alone will continue to create chances (or the appearance of chances) but the Fire have to find a way to generate offense without solely relying on Oduro racing past defenders. Had a decent chance or two in this match but that's not enough to win on the road when the midfield, particularly on the outside is not playing well.
M Daniel Paladini (5) - Came in for Robayo in the 61st and best moment came on a well struck shot from 30 yards that Pickens easily knocked away.
M Federico Puppo (5) - Entered for Pappa in the 78th....perhaps this should exchange should have been made ten minutes earlier.
F Orr Barouch (5) - Swapped for Pause in the 83rd as the Fire were in desperation mode.
C Frank Klopas (4) - Lost the match-up battle with Oscar Pareja when the Rapids decided to employ the type of defense that will cause the club problems all season. It seems the game plan was to try to conserve energy in high altitude during the first half while hoping to make a push in the second half but the midfield lost composure and shape right from the get go. Sloppy passing and a struggle to keep any possession marred the second forty-five.
Klopas addressed the loss after the match. "We just dropped off and I think they were keeping everything in front of us, really," he said. "It’s a game we need to look at, forget, and move on".
The Fire did appear to look more lively after the Colorado score but unfortunately the surge once trailing is typically predictable and probably should have taken place sooner. "We basically played like a 4-4-1-1 and matched up a little bit better in the middle and were a little bit better with the ball (in the second half). But still in the final third, movement without the ball was not good. We just looked flat. We weren’t really very good on the day. We had a couple of opportunities but I felt we didn’t make them really pay for it on a couple chances. It’s a tough one, it’s disappointing and we’ve just got to move on," said Klopas.
It's one loss and not the end of the world, or even the MLS season for that matter but there are still issues that need to be addressed.
The Fire Reserves also dropped a decision to Colorado this morning by a 2-1 score. Federico Puppo managed the Fire's only goal in the 66th minute after knocking in a rebound from an Orr Barouch shot. Colorado scored both of their goals from rebounds as well. Andre Akpan picked up a brace after Sean Johnson's initial saves in the 37th and 85th minutes.
Barouch also managed to once again find the post in the 34th minute.
Arne Friedrich did not dress for the reserve match.
Hauptman and Rangers?
This story appeared in MLS' Kickoff this morning. It links Andrew Hauptman to a Chicago based group looking into a purchase of Scotland's Rangers.