Dispatch: Chicago Fire (3) at FC Dallas (2)
OTF’s Brian Howe Battle takes a closer look at last Saturday night’s Chicago win and cautions Fire Nation to take it one game at a time…
Studies have shown that fewer options will ultimately make people more happy. It’s the tyranny of choice that allows for poor decisions, over-analysis, and the mental torture of thinking what “could have been.” Strangely enough, it’s moving forward bereft of choice that makes for positivity.
Saturday’s situation in Frisco most certainly proved this hypothesis; there was little choice in who was to take the field for the Chicago Fire, and even less doubt about what had to happen. To continue in the playoff race the Fire had to win. To assure a win they had to be the aggressor.
With World Cup qualifiers occurring last week, the Men in Red were without midfield defensive stalwart Egidio Arévalo Rios (Uruguay) and the team’s assist leader, Joel Lindpere (Estonia), which left skipper Frank Klopas with very few choices to make. Captain Jeff Larentowicz would obviously assume D-mid duties, while Alex would be given the responsibility to push forward.
The absence of seldom-attacking Logan Pause in the starting XI confirmed that Klopas knew what had to happen, and his lack of other options made that decision an easy one. Never in doubt was the pairing of forwards Juan Luis Anangonó and “Magic” Mike Magee, whose complementary styles are beginning to bear fruit.
Anangonó was an offensive terror all night. He’s massive, he’s fast, and he has the work rate of seven Sherjills. His size has given the Fire a real threat from set pieces and his imposing figure is beginning to yield goals. Case in point: the Fire has scored three goals from corners in the last two games. Before last week they had put away two all season.
The highlights may only show the Ecuadorian’s early goal (a corner cross from Magee that he redirected off the back of his brilliant noggin), but he was a disruptive force the entire match. Anangonó’s an intimidating player in the box (note his in-air headbutting acumen) and he agitates defenders by tracking down long balls he has no business getting near. The biggest revelation, however, has been the big man’s ball control.
Fire possession, which has been dismal all season, is getting a boost (or at least leveling out) as Anangonó has had more success bringing down the ball, laying it off to an advancing midfielder, and then pushing forward to wreak more havoc. Klopas’s choice to employ an aggressive game plan not only bolsters the Fire’s attacking numbers, but improves the possession stat as well.
FC Dallas was not without their own threats on goal in the first half. Dallas forward Fabian Castillo found himself in the area with opportunities a handful of times, but his chances were squandered by the confident gamesmanship of Jalil Anibaba, quick reflexes by ‘keeper Sean Johnson, and some heavy-footed attempts by the Dallas attack. The Fire’s attack itself wasn’t too pretty either, often playing the clever pass instead of the necessary one with a number of errant back-heels and lofted balls that landed near no one in particular.
Alex and left winger Dilly Duka also showed their frustrating duality as both talented creators as well as shoot-first, shrug-later triggermen. Duka’s first shot of the night was one such example. Later, Alex brought down a ball at the top of the box, showing great poise before hauling off on a shot while two attackers on his flanks would have made for better options. What was commendable, though, was the Fire’s relentlessness in attack. The second goal, collected by Alex off a bad Dallas touch, was blasted towards goal only to ricochet off a recoiling Magee.
The “Soccer Gods” that have punished the Men in Red’s failure to finish opportunities in previous games, clearly respect hard work. It’s evident that pressure, minus finesse, can still yield results. The team showed great spark, and I suspect that the “must win” mentality and a diamond midfield put the onus on the offense to create, rather than the defense not to mess up.
Despite conceding two (questionable) goals, the back line played admirably as well. Anibaba’s early second-half finish was an absolute stunner and put the Fire up 3-0. After Bakary Soumare’s goal last week, that marks two straight matches in which the defense has put one on the board, not to mention Austin Berry’s athletic bicycle attempt later in the half that just missed.
Our weekly culprit, Soumare, played within himself, often “checking down” to the simple pass when weeks ago he may have sent it skyward. Gonzalo Segares played a cagey game as usual, but concerns continue to rise as it looks like the vet may be running out of gas at the end of a long season. Fatigue may have factored into the 3-2 finish on Saturday, a game that turned into an unlikely nail-biter.
Looking at the box score, Dallas’s Kenny Cooper appeared to be a dominant force, but the 6’3″ giant’s goals came from a fairly obvious offside no-call, and a penalty kick off a clear 50/50 ball in which Dallas midfielder Jackson stuck his left foot between Segares’s legs.
Regardless of the score, points are points, and now, points are all that matter. Forget about “magic numbers” or win/loss scenarios; the Fire are above the thin red line. Now, winning-out means making the playoffs. Now, the “playoff math” is binary: win and play on, lose and forget about it.
This weekend’s final home game of the regular season is against a beatable Toronto FC side. There’s absolutely no point looking beyond it.