This one wasn’t going to be settled any other way, was it?
Didier Drogba’s hat trick essentially ended the Fire’s farcical charge for the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The mathematical gymnastics will continue for the next few weeks as quality, or lack thereof, at the bottom of the Conference won’t yet allow them to be put out of their misery but make no mistake, this loss put the lid on playoff hopes this season. Montreal showed that they can be just as inept defensively with their display in this game, so they’ll keep the window of opportunity ajar for the four remaining hopefuls. However, their games in hand advantage may be too much to overcome, barring anything short of an epic collapse.
Drogba won’t find scoring in MLS as easy as he did in this game but if he stays fit and available it’s not likely that he will let the Impact squander their position.
The talk before the match centered around the Fire treating this latest “must-win” contest in the same manner as they would a cup final. They responded as they have for just about every other “must-win” game in recent history. This time, the attacking side showed up but the defensive end certainly didn’t. A barrage of Montreal shots in the second half could have made this one even more embarrassing but highlight reel saves by Sean Johnson kept it respectable. “I don’t know where to start,” said Frank Yallop after the match. “We score three goals away from home; one is a penalty but the other two are good finishes. To come away with no points is very disappointing.”
The Fire didn’t land Drogba this summer but they did manage to wrangle somewhere in the neighborhood of three-hundred thousands dollars in allocation funny money from the league for simply being rejected. It’s painfully evident where that stash needs to be spent.
Until quality defenders can be added, the only game similar to a cup final that they’ll be playing in will feature two hapless organizations fighting for scraps and the right to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
GK Sean Johnson (5.5) – There was another array of remarkable saves that kept the Fire in it, but there was also that awkward failure to get out and either knock away or grab a seemingly harmless corner kick attempt in the 42nd. Seven saves included classic SJ denials in the 52nd, 53rd, 64th, and twice in the 68th. Even the winning goal featured a quality stop but those lapses will keep him from truly garnering real attention overseas.
D Lovel Palmer (3.5) – For some reason he was man-marking Lefevre on corner kicks. The strategy was woeful and could have resulted in even more than the one goal in the 42nd. Lefevre missed an open header in the 31st as a result and that worked so well that 11 minutes later, it continued. Palmer didn’t give Frank Yallop any reason to not continue to play Matt Polster out of position at right back in the future but the other three defenders may have been worse. So there’s that.
D Eric Gehrig (3.5) – Out-muscled by Drogba for the first goal. There’s no crime in that but the remainder of the match featured a back line that was scattered and flat footed. Stopped to complain on the third goal. See the winning goal and try to determine what was going on there.
D Jeff Larentowicz (4) – Scored on a penalty kick. After telling the broadcast team at half-time that they needed to play better defensively, he fell asleep while looking the other way as Montreal forced a quick restart in the 61st. Drogba walked in a scored easily against no resistance. Also see fourth goal.
D Greg Cochrane (3.5) – Montreal was dangerous up and down the left side of the Fire defense all night. Playing Cochrane in combination with Shipp on that side probably didn’t help. No challenge for Mapp.
M Patrick Nyarko (6) – Wasn’t credited with an assist but his pass to Igboananike in the 44th set up the second goal. His pass into Shipp led to the penalty kick. Dangerous for most of the time he was on the pitch.
M Razvan Cocis (4.5) – Not as effective as he has been in previous games on either side of the pitch. The Fire were the better team for the first 25 minutes or so but that fell apart quickly. Montreal enjoyed far too many easy and uncontested looks.
M Michael Stephens (6) – Continues to be one of the bright spots recently. One of the few to play well on both sides of the ball. More of his energy and enthusiasm is needed.
M Harry Shipp (5.5) – Still seems lost at times but did factor in to some positive play. His touch in the 35th wasn’t particularly good but Tissot’s clumsy challenge and tackle on Shipp led to the penalty kick. His corner kick service also left something to be desired for most of the night but his one good ball did find Igboananike for a score in the 59th.
F Gilberto (5.5) – Scored his first Fire goal in the 44th. It was well taken but not particularly difficult given the lack of pressure from the Montreal defense. Played a decent game but the results in this match from the Chicago’s first choice striker during this last window makes it look like the Fire got the booby prize at the door.
F Kennedy Igboananike (6.5) – He’s shown the ability to provide some quality with another goal and an assist on Gilberto’s goal. He’s much improved since the first half of the season, which may lead to the Fire deciding that he returns next season. He’s been good recently but is he worth $900K and a DP spot next season? That’s a story for another day but until then, Ogboananike has shown well for himself in the last month.
F Mike Magee (5) – Subbed in for Gilberto in the 75th. The Fire didn’t have much going from that point as Montreal looked to defend with the lead.
M Matt Watson (5) – Came into the match for Cocis in the 75th. One soft and easily handled header attempt in the 88th was about it.
M Jason Johnson (5) – Entered the match for Nyarko in the 83rd. Didn’t factor into much.