Jalil Anibaba (Chicago Fire) and Eric Hassli (Vancouver Whitecaps)
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On Fire: Defense steps up, tallies first shutout of 2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire missed a golden opportunity for three points on Saturday night, squandering numerous chances, loads of possession and a solid defensive performance en route to a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Park.

As it has so many times in this young season, poor finishing doomed the Fire. Chicago blew several point blank chances in front of net against the Whitecaps, something they need to change if they want to climb up the Eastern Conference table.

This week’s On Fire skips over Chicago’s finishing woes (we’ve already covered that a few times) and instead expands upon three other observations from Saturday’s match.

1) Defense dazzles

The Fire turned in one of their better defensive performances of the season Saturday, limiting Vancouver to just one effort on goal en route to tallying their first shutout of 2011.

For the most part, Chicago eliminated the mental errors that have been costing them goals and points by marking and tackling effectively while only getting caught out once (on Eric Hassli’s 75th-minute breakaway) in the entire match.

The Fire back four also did a decent job of holding possession, patiently knocking the ball around until a passing lane opened higher up the field.

“They were very good,” Fire 'keeper Jon Conway said of the back line. “We limited chances, we kept possession of the ball, we did a good job of moving it around and keeping them moving and we were able to pass it and keep it and get it into our playmakers. You could see we got some life out of it because we did get a lot of chances.”

2) Oduro on point

Yes, he should’ve finished his 32nd-minute chance, but by and large, Fire winger Dominic Oduro had himself a solid game on Saturday night. The Ghanaian speedster gave the Whitecaps fits with his pace, frequently burning defenders down the right flank before occasionally setting up his teammates in dangerous positions.

“He was big,” Fire midfielder Corben Bone said. “In our formation, we play a lot of small passes, and to have his speed so we can kick a ball over the top is really nice.”

3) Live by the style, die by the style

The most interesting thing to come out of Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos’ postgame press conference was his insistence that he’ll go down trying to play a possession-based brand of soccer.

De los Cobos has tried to bring his style of soccer to Chicago since his arrival in January 2010, earning mostly mixed results.

"I know very well that the results are very important, but the way that you are getting the results is very important to me,” he said. “I want to play football. For me it is very easy to put the ball forward with long balls, but I don’t like it. I want to die with my idea, my philosophy to play. … I believe in myself, I believe in my players and I know that we need to keep working.”

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Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.

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