FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Heading into Sunday night’s match against the New England Revolution, Fire winger Patrick Nyarko spoke at length about Chicago’s need to concentrate for the full 90 minutes.
“There isn’t 60 minutes in a game, it’s always 90,” Nyarko said on Thursday. “We just need to stay more concentrated throughout the entire game, not relax one bit and try to defend every ball.
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The reason for Nyarko’s emphasis was, of course, relatively clear. Over the first 11 matches of the 2010 season, the Fire developed a nasty little habit of losing focus in the back, conceding late goals and dropping important points.
Chicago reversed that trend Sunday night, getting a gem of a goal from midfielder Marco Pappa and absorbing wave after wave of Revolution attack to keep New England off the scoreboard to pick up a 1-0 road win.
“It was a total team effort. Coach [Carlos de los Cobos] stressed that we should communicate in the field, talk to each other, let the person know where your mark is and stay on your mark and I think the guys stayed concentrated throughout the game,” said Nyarko. “We got the lead, we had some pretty nervous situations, but we dealt with them confidently.”
Pappa put the Fire ahead in the 30th minute with a fantastic effort from 30 yards. The New England defense failed to pressure Pappa after he got around Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph and the Guatemalan winger took full advantage of the time and space, absolutely slamming a left-footed shot off the outstretched arms of diving keeper Matt Reis and into the back of the net.
However, the Fire weren’t able to extend their advantage, putting the onus on the defense to hold the clean sheet—and the backline did just that. They kept their focus and bunkered in nicely throughout the match, only allowing one clear cut chance (a first half free header that Revs forward Jason Schilawski should have put away) despite New England holding a sizable advantage in possession.
“Defensively it was a good effort,” said Fire center back C.J. Brown. “I don’t want to play one of those games again though. I’d rather us be on the offensive end towards the end of the game instead of the defensive end.
“But since we were having to play defense for the last 20 minutes, I think the guys did well. They all bunkered in and won the balls in the air and we cleared them like we needed to,” added Brown, who credited Chicago’s increased level of concentration to the constant reminders from the coaching staff.
“I think it’s a product of what we’ve known we’ve been bad at,” Brown said of Chicago’s heightened sense of focus. “We talk about it day-in and day-out, we talked about it just before the game so everybody’s aware of it, and we did well at it.”
The Fire will confidently carry their five league game unbeaten streak—the team’s longest unbeaten run of the season—into Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against the Charleston Battery and next weekend’s MLS matchup at the Columbus Crew.
“We called this a new season for us after the break and it started really well,” Nyarko said. “Hopefully we can keep it up throughout the remainder of the games. If we play like we played tonight, we’ll be among the best in the league."
Though the Fire certainly could have possessed the ball better, they did what they had to do to pick up the three points. At the end of the day, that’s more than enough to send the team back home to Chicago happy.
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