The Fire's game plan, particularly on the road of late has been to sit back and wait for one opportunity to spring a counter. It's resulted in some ugly offensive performances but it's been somewhat effective in picking up points in Kansas City and Houston. It almost worked again today but a spectacular effort from Thierry Henry in the 71st minute was all New York needed to clear some distance between themselves and Chicago for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The problems offensively haven't just stemmed from cautious tactics on the road either. The Fire have not scored a goal from the run of play since Marco Pappa's 58th minute strike against Sporting on June 29. That's 392 minutes for those counting. It's impossible to ignore that the drought has coincided with the departure of Sebastian Grazzini and those questions will continue to be raised until the club either shows they don't need him by improving drastically in the final third or players who can make an impact are brought into the side.
Henry's spectacular finish shows why high priced strikers get paid the money they do. Henry was mostly silent for 70 minutes before uncoiling a wicked shot that banged in off of the far post past Sean Johnson. The Fire have players who are capable of a spectacular finish from time to time but none that can provide the consistent quality or threat that Henry gives New York. Those qualities will be the difference between comfortably securing a playoff spot and battling everyone else for position.
This team is still good enough to challenge for a playoff spot and this loss shouldn't dampen that outlook but as we've said all year in this space......a top notch striker is still an absolute necessity in order to be considered much more than just another club in the playoffs. Unfortunately, until they prove otherwise it seems an attacking midfielder is needed as well.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - Did all he could to keep the team in the game with big stops in the 21st and 43rd along with a command of the box which is improving every week. Easily the Fire's man of the match in this game.
D Dan Gargan (6) - One of the few Fire players that was able to contribute actual scoring chances throughout the game. Unfortunately you shouldn't have to rely on your half backs to provide all of the offense. Had three headers that were wide of goal but the last one in the 88th minute was the Fire's last chance.
D Austin Berry (6) - Pretty good in the middle limiting New York chances as neither team was able to get much going in oppressive heat.
D Jalil Anibaba (6) - Appeared to be the victim of allowing just a sliver of space for Henry to collect the ball and place a spectacular shot off the post and into Johnson's net in the 71st minute. There wasn't much he could do there and Henry was fairly well controlled throughout the rest of the match.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) - Almost scored the equalizer in the 84th when his shot was cleared by Barklage. Also provided the service for Gargan's dangerous header in the 88th.
M Pavel Pardo (5) - The Fire's midfield appeared to be moving in slow motion for much of the match as New York enjoyed the bulk of the possession.
M Logan Pause (5) - The Fire sat back and appeared to play for a draw and it almost worked although there should have been more pressure on New York's midfield to create counter attacking chances. There was none of that.
M Marco Pappa (5) - As the Fire sat back and tried to create chances for Oduro over the top of defenders in the first half it limited the chances for any of the playmakers going forward. Picked up a yellow card in the 20th minute and will now miss the team's next MLS match in San Jose due to card accumulation.
M Chris Rolfe (5) - Started out playing wide but moved into the forward role when Robayo entered the match. Moved into the center/underneath forward spot after half time but he's just not suited to play heavy minutes in that position. His only real chance came in the 31st minute when he maneuvered his way into a shot at the top of the box that was blocked away. Klopas needs to find a way to get him consistently closer to goal.
M Alex (5) - Contributed in only a handful of touches that resulted in anything going forward but otherwise was mostly invisible. Subbed out at the half. Perhaps it's unfair to compare them but I'll do it anyway. Through his first five appearances for the Fire Alex has tallied 0 goals and 0 assists. In his first five games with the club, Sebastian Grazzini had two goals and 1 assist last season. In those first five games the club also managed to score eight goals. Coincidence?
F Dominic Oduro (5) - He didn't have a terrible game given the tactics and the conditions but the Fire just need more out of this position. Period.
M Patrick Nyarko (5) - His introduction at half time provided a small spark as movement and passing seemed to improve but the offense is still producing very little.
M Rafael Robayo (5) - Came into the match in the 61st minute for Oduro. His only chance came in the 69th minute when his shoot from inside the 18 was blocked away.
F Orr Barouch (5) - Subbed in for Pause in the 75th with little consequence.
C Frank Klopas (5) - Playing for a tie on the road is usually sound tactically in MLS but something needs to be done to create chances in the final third and playing Oduro as a lone forward simply isn't working. If a 4-5-1 is the best option for the club at the moment I'd like to see Rolfe up top in place of Oduro. Klopas vehemently stated he was a forward when Rolfe-joined the team but he's played him in other spots out of necessity. It's worth a look considering what has transpired over the last five matches.