With a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps the Fire have equaled their total victory output for each of the last two seasons. In 2010 the club finished the campaign with a 9-12-9 mark. Last year's squad ended up at 9-9-16 after a late season winning stretch leveled the won/loss totals.
This one wasn't pretty but it was effective. The Fire controlled long stretches of the first half after a lackluster performance by the Vancouver midfield allowed the home team to move the ball about freely with little challenge. Vancouver seemed content to sit back and wait for an opportunity to spring Darren Mattocks via long balls but Fire defenders Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry were present to thwart just about every attempt to get ball to the rookie forward in the final third.
Another solid, well earned victory is a good sign especially when you get the sense that the lead would have been squandered at this time last season. That being said, the Fire have scored only one goal from the run of play in the last four matches and that was on a counter in the first half against Kansas City. Another big win like this one puts the club into a good position looking at playoff contention but the lack of offense and absence of finishing quality needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - Johnson registered three saves and another clean sheet. A finger tip save of Eric Hassli's header in the 87th minute and a diving save in the 73rd from a free kick were the most spectacular moments. Johnson is coming into his own at just the right time.
D Jalil Anibaba (6) - Starting him for a second straight game in lieu of Dan Gargan may have been questionable in light of the handball call last weekend but Anibaba delivered. Served a good cross into the box in the 24th minute and contributed defensively although Vancouver's wing play was fairly inept.
D Austin Berry (6) - Another solid outing for the rookie center back in tandem with Friedrich preventing Vancouver from threatening aerially for most of the match. Berry made slight contact with Mattocks in the 69th minute which resulted in referee Juan Carlos Rivero somehow deciding that Arne Friedrich deserved a second yellow card for the infraction. "That was me hitting him," said Berry of the contact on the play. "I could tell when the ref was coming in that he was going to give it to Arne. It's a split decision call and he's behind the play a lot. Luckily it didn't affect us but it's unfortunate that he got the second yellow instead of me."
D Arne Friedrich (6) - Forget the second yellow and write it off as a terrible call. Friedrich was all over Mattocks denying him position to receive the ball in dangerous areas throughout the first 70 minutes of the match. This was probably the most comfortable Friedrich has looked in a match since joining the club. Check out his post game comments at the Fire Confidential Facebook page.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) - Vancouver really was able to get nothing going until a few chances late in the game. Barry Robson was forced to retreat deep into midfield to retrieve the ball and never really got going in the attack. Segares let him know he was being watched carefully on more than one occasion.
M Pavel Pardo (7) - A perfectly placed free kick in the 10th minute gave the Fire all they needed. It seemed that goalkeeper Joe Cannon was either screened or late to react to the ball but it was struck in a manner that it may not have mattered even though it wasn't a particularly hard shot. Another well struck attempt from distance in the 35th sailed over the crossbar. He and Pause owned the midfield on this night.
M Logan Pause (7) - Vancouver gave the Fire midfielders space to work and rarely were able to move forward effectively when they did maintain possession. Pause often goes unnoticed but it was hard miss numerous break-ups and intercepted passes denying the Whitecaps offensively. I stopped counting at six. Pause was a force on a night when the game plan and the play of the opposition played into his strengths.
M Patrick Nyarko (6) - Created the chance for Pardo's free kick when he drew a foul near the top of the box. With Alex and Rolfe stepping into starting roles there didn't seem to be a whole lot of continuity between the Fire's top attackers but Nyarko continues his high work rate on both ends of the field.
M Chris Rolfe (5) - Started out wide in place of Marco Pappa due to illness but never appeared to be comfortable. Passing wasn't as crisp as is customarily seen from Rolfe but did move up front late in the game when Oduro was subbed out. He's going to need to play up top to really be valuable to this team.
M Alex (5) - Showed some flashes of brilliance again but not really enough to make anyone feel ready to declare that the club doesn't need Sebastian Grazzini. He may yet be a suitable replacement as he learns his teammates and their tendencies but he does appear to hold onto the ball just a split second too long in most cases. Perhaps the connection will develop but he's in a tough spot. "I'm getting used to the players around me, especially Oduro since my passes should go directly to him to his feet," said Alex after the match. A 44th minute cross was cleared from the line by Vancouver before Nyarko could get to it and a 23rd minute pass found Oduro but Cannon came out to deny the chance.
F Dominic Oduro (5) - Perhaps it's due to the single striker formation, the fact that opposing defenses are prepared for his speed, or just because he doesn't have a wide variety of tricks or touch but the Fire will need to get much more production out of the forward spot than what Oduro is currently providing. He can still be effective by using his pace but the club needs another striker to compliment him in order to avoid the predictability that has set in. Had an opportunity 1v1 in the 23rd but Cannon thwarted the chance and had a goal called back for being in an offside position in the 53rd minute.
M Corben Bone (5) - Entered the match in the 64th for Oduro thereby pushing Rolfe up top. A few decent touches on the ball from the right side but the red card spoiled any chance to see what he could do going forward.
D Dan Gargan (6) - Came in for Alex in the 71st minute as the Fire looked to defend while a man down. The Fire back line was solid all game long.
M Rafael Robayo (5) - Subbed into the match in the 77th minute for Nyarko. He's done well to maintain possession and kill the clock late in games as the Fire held onto leads but he had a few errant passes in this one.
C Frank Klopas (6) - Clearly got the better of the match up with Martin Rennie but he'll need to find some answers offensively soon.