On the strength of a nine game unbeaten run across all competition the Fire have placed themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. After a 3-2 win over San Jose, the club now sits in sixth place only 2 points behind the Houston Dynamo with a game in hand. They are now only six points behind Sunday’s opponent Sporting Kansas City with two games in hand on them.
An entertaining match that showed the Fire are still capable of coming from behind due to strong play on the wings and the continued excellence of Mike Magee up front. Magee failed to score for the first time in a Fire uniform but his presence has allowed Chris Rolfe to find more freedom and space after a rough start to a season in which he was forced to be the primary playmaker. If Rolfe can maintain his current form in combination with the emergence of Dilly Duka as an impact player out wide, the Fire will be in the thick of things in the East.
While things are looking up offensively, the Fire didn’t play badly on the other end of the pitch but two botched defensive sequences resulting from dead ball situations got them in trouble again. Second balls from free kicks and corners have been an issue for the majority of the season and this game was no exception. This is one area the Fire will need to improve on quickly as the second half of the season rolls around and teams begin the mad dash for a playoff spot.
GK Paolo Tornaghi (5) – There wasn’t much he could do on the two San Jose goals and he wasn’t called on often in terms of difficult saves. In fact he only had one official save on the stat sheet at the end of the night. Distribution could have been a little better and he’ll surely be tested harder in the upcoming month with Sean Johnson away.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) – Solid effort both ways and quite involved going forward. His pass to Duka in the 36th led to the first Fire goal and he was also involved in the initial sequence leading to the second score.
D Jalil Anibaba (5) – A decent game with the exception of one play in the 73rd minute. His deflection of a seemingly harmless corner kick which would have hit the ground untouched by a San Jose player ended up glancing off of Lindpere and into the net to tie the game. An unfortunate bounce, but these are the types of plays that can kill playoff hopes in a tight race.
D Bakary Soumare (5) – Speaking of lone bad plays, Soumare was very good for most of the game with the exception of losing track of Alan Gordon in the 14th allowing him to get free long enough to get a head on a second ball from a free kick. Gordon’s initial shot hit the crossbar but the San Jose forward recovered and headed in the rebound to give the visitors the lead.
D Austin Berry (5) – A few shaky moments in the second resulted in some danger. To his credit a 53rd minute giveaway was snuffed when he raced back to recover and block the ensuing cross out of bounds for a corner kick.
M Patrick Nyarko (6) – Strong effort from Nyarko as usual with a goal scored in the 47th minute on a cross from Duka. Left the match in the 64th with an apparent hamstring issue. Nyarko said after the match that the hamstring was tight coming into the game but he was able to get treatment enabling him to play in this one. He’s hopeful for Sunday but says it may be smart not to push it if the tightness continues going into the weekend.
M Jeff Larentowicz (6) – Quietly providing a steady presence in the holding role during this current unbeaten run. Registered three shots on target and continues to improve as a link between defense and attackers.
M Alex (6) – Holding back a bit in central midfield (possibly by design) by playing more even with Larentowicz as the wide players and forwards provide most of the attacking impetus. Served an excellent long ball into Duka in the 19th setting up a chance. Started a promising 3v3 counter in the 33rd but may have held onto the ball one second too long. Subbed out in the 79th.
M Dilly Duka (7) – A second MLS Team of the Week appearance should be in line for Duka who was a force in this match from start to finish. Before scoring the club’s first goal in the 36th he created several opportunities and it seemed like just a matter of time before the Fire would level it. A fantastic move to beat Beitashour and a perfect low cross into Nyarko tied the game at one apiece. Scored his second goal in a Fire kit in the 47th and had two more near miss opportunities in the 17th,76th and 77th. The latter forced Busch into a big save which Magee almost got to. If Duka continues on this form the Fire will be very difficult to contend with.
F Chris Rolfe (6) – Very good in combination throughout the match and seems to be finding his groove. After a two goal outing in the USOC quarter final he scored the game winner in this one. Duka credited Rolfe during post game comments and he had several other near misses. Catch post game comments from Duka and Rolfe at the Fire Confidential Facebook page.
F Mike Magee (6) – He didn’t score but he did provide the assist on Rolfe’s game winner. His presence and ability to play the right pass or shot when needed has elevated the offense and the play of Rolfe, Duka, and Nyarko. An MVP candidate through the first half of the MLS season. Through the first four months of the season Magee has won Player of the Month twice. Jack McInerney has claimed the other two.
M Joel Lindpere (5) – Came in for Nyarko in the 64th and provided some less than impressive passes. He was credited with the own goal but there wasn’t much he could have done to avoid it since he was marking his man.
M Daniel Paladini (5) – Subbed in for Alex in the 79th as the Fire looked to go more defensive in the middle with the lead.
F Maicon Santos (5) – Late sub for Duka in the 87th and had an opportunity to find Magee open near the top of the box in stoppage time but tried to make one move too many.
Sporting Kansas City on Sunday afternoon.
Reminder: Sean Johnson and USA v Guatemala tonight at 10 on NBC Sports Network. Marco Pappa is not in the squad for Guatemala.
Watch post game comments from Duka and Rolfe at the Fire Confidential Facebook page.