This surely isn't the start anyone had in mind after a 4-1-2 preseason provided some hope that the apparent lack of scoring punch could be handled by committee. The lack of finishing and creativity in the attacking third was overshadowed by a putrid defensive effort in the opener but the club's biggest concern going into 2013 was on full display in a disheartening 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution in the home opener.
"I thought we started the game well and created some chances in the first half but playing against the wind was a little bit more difficult and then we just gave up a set piece where we get caught ball watching and we give up a goal," said Frank Klopas in his post game press conference. "In the run of play we got in some good spots but we just didn't finish. We have to be better because obviously when you put your chances away it takes away a lot of pressure," continued Klopas.
The biggest offender in terms of botched chances was forward Sherjill MacDonald who is not only struggling with form but fitness has also been an issue throughout preseason. MacDonald was taken off at halftime after one particularly glaring chance was missed in the 27th minute. "We took out MacDonald because we needed him to hold the ball better and at times when we tried to find him he was late to his movement. He had a couple of chances he didn't put away and going against the wind I know that Maicon is bigger, stronger and we could use him to hold the ball a little bit better," said Klopas of his decision to remove the club's sole remaining designated player at half time.
MacDonald believes things will improve but wasn't giving any reason for his benching in the opener and his troubles in this match. "I don't know, you have to ask the coach but of course I was disappointed. As a player you have to listen to the coach," said MacDonald when asked about his issues in the first two games of 2013. "I think we didn't have a fantastic first half but it was okay. The second half with the wind against us was a little bit more difficult," said MacDonald.
The Dutch forward still believes he's can recapture the rhythm he had with Chris Rolfe in 2012 which led to some success offensively but has failed to show so far this year. "I still think I have a good connection with Rolfe but in some games it works better than other games. I'm sure once the season gets going we're going to be okay," he said. Although he wasn't happy with the way his chances were taken in this one MacDonald maintains there are better days ahead. "This is my job. As a striker I know these things happen in soccer but I'm just there to support the team at all times. We'll be okay. Today was not a good game but maybe next game we'll score and everybody will talk different."
Rolfe also cited issues with the wind in the second half which curtailed what they were able to do offensively. "Going against the wind a little bit in the second half was a little difficult. I don't want to make an excuse but I think we were a little tired," he said. "The LA game was kind of an eye opener for us and I think in this game we were much better. We were unfortunate to not at least tie this game. We had three pretty clear cut chances that we weren't sharp on. Our defense played very well, that goal that they scored was just kind of a fluke," said Rolfe in comparing the first two matches of the year. "I don't know if it was Austin or his mark (that) could have came and cleared it. Normally they would've. Just a bit of lack of sharpness on our part," he said.
The midfield play has also not been particularly sharp but that was probably expected with three new starters occupying the four available positions in the middle. Joel Lindpere is being counted on the start the attack but things have been slow to develop in the early going. Lindpere knows that it's important to win at each opportunity but also noted that there is time to right the ship. "Bad things happen but the season is early. The teams I've played on before in this league have seen how this league is built. Everything starts at the end of the year. I know we've had a bad start but if we keep working hard those wins are not far. Maybe it's new guys working together but the ball just didn't go in," said Lindpere of the club's difficult start. "We had some moments but we knew the only way they could score against us was on set pieces and they did it," he continued.
The season is early and there is surely time to develop the chemistry necessary to earn better results than the outcome of this match but whether it's early in the season or late, it's never a good thing to not only drop points but lose altogether at home while playing a conference opponent that should be behind you in the standings. Arne Friedrich's return may be weeks away and Klopas seems to have found a better combination with Anibaba in his place but the issue with goal scoring will remain. The midfield will need some time to gel and should improve. "Two weeks we lost the game," said Klopas when asked about the revamped midfield. "The effort was there from the group and I think we just have to keep working. Our problem now is a little bit in the back where we made some mistakes and we're paying for them," he said.
The Fire are staring right into the face of a possible 0-3 start to begin the season with a difficult trip to Kansas City on the horizon next Saturday. There's still plenty of time to correct some of the big concerns and this is a better team than they have shown over the first two games but at some point someone is going to have to score goals. That someone isn't wearing a red shirt yet.
GK Sean Johnson (5) - New England didn't really have many opportunities to score but they did manage to convert on their only clear chance. Johnson registered two saves including an early stop of a 5th minute Kalifa Cisse header and that was about it.
D Gonzalo Segares (5) - Much better game for the veteran than last week with several stops against Toja particularly in the first half. New England recessed into defend and counter mode after the score in the 62nd minute so the second half didn't require as much activity.
D Jalil Anibaba (5) - Moved into a centerback spot to start the match and the switch provided an improvement over last week's effort in Los Angeles from a team standpoint. Moved back to the right side midway through the second when the Fire needed to press for a tying goal. "I knew with Bengston, who was more athletic I wanted to get Jalil in the back and during the game I switched them up again because I knew Steven was getting tired and we had to push the game. Jalil still had his legs and could push from the right side," explained Frank Klopas after the match.
D Austin Berry (5) - Good for the entire match with the exception of getting caught flat footed on the the cross that resulted in Bengston's goal in the 62nd. "It was just a broken down play. We cleared the first ball and didn't stick t0 marks on the second ball in. It's a shame because we defended well for the majority of the game," said Berry. "We're getting more comfortable (without Friedrich). Sliding in Jalil into the centerback spot there's a little more familiarity between me and him. It's getting better but we would like to have Arne back," he said.
D Steven Kinney (5) - A pretty good match for Kinney on the right side in the first half. Several crosses cleared and a great run out of the back in the 43rd minute were the highlights. Moved to centerback in the second half and was clearly gassed at the end of the game.
M Jeff Larentowicz (5) - The Fire won the possession battle 54-46 and New England rarely threatened as the Fire midfield was better (again during the first half in particular).
M Dilly Duka (5) - An improved outing from the previous week with periods of good activity cutting into a the middle of the field. His blast from almost 30 yards in the 31st minute was well struck and hit the crossbar after Matt Reis appeared to get a fingertip on the shot. The second half wasn't as eventful - he was subbed out in the 58th.
M Joel Lindpere (5) - Perhaps it's a function of the club's new midfield combination but Lindpere needs to be more involved going forward as a link to the strikers if the Fire are to improve offensively. There were moments (again in the first half) that included decent combination play but he disappeared for the most part in the second. "In the first half we played good and we had more opportunities to score. We've got believe that we're a better team," said Lindpere after the match.
M Patrick Nyarko (5) - He's not been as involved in the offense as he should have been in the first two games of the season. In last season's formation with two holding midfielders he had more freedom to get forward but with a flat 4-4-2 and one holding mid he's tended to hold back a bit more. The Fire need to find a way to get him the ball in dangerous positions. He continues to really only be stopped through grabs, lunges, and physical play. Had an excellent sequence in the 27th minute after stealing the ball and providing a cross to MacDonald all alone inside the six.
F Chris Rolfe (5) - Yet another player on the home team who started out very well in the first half only to level off in the second. His only shot came in the 26th when his left footed attempt sailed high after receiving a pass from Lindpere. Subbed out in the 66th minute. Klopas explained the substitution as an injury concern. "He had a muscle issue and he was grabbing his knee so we had to take him out. We were making a different change but then we had to take him out because he couldn't continue," said Klopas. Rolfe said the issue was a result of cramping and not an injury problem.
F Sherjill MacDonald (4) - His form and fitness are a big concern early in the season and as a designated player the pressure will be on for him to deliver....and soon. His muff of the scoring chance in the 27th minute was of the shockingly bad variety and another good look was sent woefully high in the 3rd after Rolfe and Kinney worked a combination to get him a chance. "I had one big chance. I think I had more time than I thought I had so I had to shoot real fast. These are the decisions you make some times and after the game you can see if it was a good decision or a bad decision," said MacDonald who was subbed out at halftime.
M Yazid Atouba (5) - Came into the match in the 58th minute as a replacement for Duka. The Revs scored 4 minutes later and retreated into a defensive formation. The Fire never really got anything going in the second half although Atouba was active.
M Alex (5) - Subbed in for Rolfe in the 66th but there wasn't much to speak of from the Fire offensively at any point after the 60th minute. I suspect the substitution Klopas originally had in mind in the 66th was a move to get Alex into a playmaking role in favor of Lindpere before Rolfe's "injury" concern.
F Maicon Santos (5) - An improvement over MacDonald with a good ball forward to Lindpere to start an attack in the 49th minute. A long distance prayer from 30 yards and a low shot right at Reis in stoppage time was all the Fire could muster in an effort to tie the game.