Fire fight heat, fatigue to execute their defensive plan
The Chicago Fire obviously left their creative, attacking flair back home in Bridgeview when they went on the road for a two-game swing through Kansas City and Houston.
After combining for five goals in wins against New York and Columbus at Toyota Park, the Fire traveled south and played defensively twice in a row in a tough environment amidst blistering heat.
In the first game, last Friday, they came away with a 1-0 win at Sporting Kansas City. On Tuesday, in Houston, the Fire withstood temperatures in the 90s and the Dynamo’s relentless attack to come away with a share of points.
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“Playing in the heat and playing on the road, if we were to come out attacking like we had the previous two games, it would have been hard for guys to last 90 minutes,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com after the scoreless draw in Houston. “With Kansas City and Houston, they have a defined way of playing, and if we had tried to get into their way of playing, it was going to be harder for us.”
Similar to Friday’s win, the Fire picked their spots to go forward on Tuesday, and had a couple of decent chances.
Dominic Oduro had an opportunity in the 20th minute, but he whiffed his shot in the box. Chris Rolfe had a half a chance on a snap-shot during a broken play just after the halftime break. And midfielder Alex almost gave the Fire their fourth win in a row in the 80th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute by a sliding Bobby Boswell.
But unlike Friday, when Rolfe and midfielder Marco Pappa connected on counter attacks to give the Fire the win, they couldn’t capitalize on Tuesday.
“We didn’t lose,” Oduro said. “We came here with a game plan, we stayed focused, and at the end of the day we were able to execute it.”
Without Sebastián Grazzini the last two games, Rolfe has stepped into the lineup and delivered more of a defensive presence than the man he replaced. While Rolfe’s backtracking helped in two of the Fire’s best defensive performances of the season, it may have been to the Fire’s detriment offensively.
“He did an excellent job,” Nyarko said. “They had three in the midfield and he had a responsibility for that third offensive guy. We were actually telling him, sometimes he’s overdoing it. … He’s not leading the midfielders and stepping up high, and it’s leaving a gap.”
Taking home four points from two teams that have given up only nine points in 15 combined home games has been an accomplishment. But Nyarko knows the Fire’s play will be different on Sunday when they host the LA Galaxy.
“These last couple of games we’ve played smart and picked our moments going forward,” he said. “At home, it’s going to be a different story, because at home we’re going to push the game offensively, and we’re going to try to step high.”