The Chicago Fire’s eight-game unbeaten run came to a screeching halt Saturday night, when they fell to the LA Galaxy, 2-1, at the Home Depot Center.
The Fire played well for the majority of Saturday’s match, but made three critical mistakes that cost them the game. The first two errors came on Galaxy set plays in the 58th and 62nd minutes, when poor dead ball defending cost Chicago a pair of goals. The third mistake came in the 72nd minute, when attacker Marco Pappa blew a golden opportunity that would’ve tied the game.
This week’s On Fire skips over the set piece gaffes and poor finishing, looking at three other storylines from Saturday’s match.
A night to remember for Nyarko
Fire winger Patrick Nyarko played his best game of the season Saturday, tormenting LA on the left flank all night. Nyarko created numerous opportunities throughout the match and made his best play in the 62nd minute, cutting inside on his right foot in the top left corner of the box before playing a picture perfect cross to forward Cristian Nazarit at the back post for the Fire’s goal.
“My mentality was just to utilize my strengths and be aggressive for 90 minutes, create chances and try to help the team win,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “Overall I thought I did OK, and obviously I always look to improve. I’m looking forward to the next game and trying to help this team win.”
It wasn’t all good for Nyarko though. The Ghanaian winger had a scare in second-half stoppage time, when he went off injured following a harsh tackle from LA midfielder Chris Birchall, who was shown a yellow card for the challenge. Nyarko, who said that he should be available for Tuesday’s US Open Cup quarterfinal against New York, thought Birchall should have seen red.
“I don’t know why it was a yellow card,” Nyarko said of the tackle. “I thought he should’ve been sent off.
“Once I touched it I kind of had a feeling he wasn’t going to let me into the open,” he added. “I passed it around him and I kind of expected him to tackle me but not to that extent. I got really lucky. … I’m just glad it isn’t worse than it is right now.”
Conservative tactics work well
Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas has emphasized solid defending and quick counterattacking ever since he took over in late May, and at no time were those conservative tactics more apparent than on Saturday night.
Klopas kept center midfielders Daniel Paladini and Logan Pause close to the back line in the first half, a move that slowed the LA attacking trio David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juninho and stymied the Galaxy’s entire offense. He had his wingers attack on the break in the opening frame, a move that played to the Fire’s strengths and led to two good chances, both in the 13th minute.
Klopas let his team open up a bit after halftime, a move that paid off on the attacking end without conceding much on defense as LA’s two goals came from set plays and their offense didn’t improve in open play.
If it weren’t for the two set piece goals, which were certainly not due to any tactical errors, Klopas’s game plan — and his team’s execution — very well could’ve given the Fire all three points.
“I am very happy with the guys,” Klopas said after the match. “We didn’t deserve to lose this game. I thought we outplayed them and out shot them. But we hurt ourselves with the set pieces. I think we gave way too many fouls throughout the game and those were there dangerous moments. In the run of play they didn’t create anything. We outshot them 5-1 in saves, so we definitely created clear opportunities in the run of play.”
“I am happy and very proud of the guys,” he added. “We came, we played away, we played a very good game and we pushed the game to win and in the end, it is just one game. It’s not the end of the season.”
Open Cup on deck
The Fire have another quick turnaround this week, as they’ll take on the New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup at Toyota Park on Tuesday.
Chicago will likely be a tired bunch — all of their regular starters played on Saturday — but the team has said they’re committed to winning the Open Cup and should run out a relatively full lineup against what will be a reserve-laden New York squad on Tuesday night.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.