As frustrating as it may be to do so, take a minute and think back to the 58th minute of Sunday night’s defeat to the Colorado Rapids. Newly acquired Rapids midfielder Martin Rivero hits a long ball towards the Fire’s left-hand corner for Brian Mullan to chase. Clearly tired and lacking the pace needed to catch Mullan, Gonzalo Segares lags several yards behind and cannot prevent the Colorado veteran from reaching the ball, looking up and examining his options, and finding Omar Cummings unmarked in the center of the box with acres of space. 1-0 to the home side.
My problem with this goal doesn’t even lie with Segares, apart from his lack of effort to stop the cross, but the main culprits for this goal are the Fire’s center-backs: Cory Gibbs and Jalil Anibaba. The pair have built a formidable defensive partnership together, but they simply weren’t at their best on Sunday. The image below portrays just how much space they left for Cummings, a type of sin when committed in one’s own penalty box.
But is defense really the main problem for the Chicago Fire and the main area for Frank Klopas to address before Houston’s visit to Toyota Park on April 15th? I’m not convinced. A poor defensive performance it was, but slack defending like we witnessed from Anibaba and Gibbs on Sunday hasn’t been a concern for the pair since they formed their partnership last season. After all, they were absolutely magnificent against Philadelphia a week earlier on opening night and they also performed well against Montreal in the first match of the season. And regardless of how much faith I place in the veteran and the youngster, any defensive worries could soon be alleviated in a few weeks once Arne Freidrich makes his mark on the team (Freidrich has indicated he will be ready by 4/15). Additionally, Dan Gargan’s absence at right-back was also felt and the former Toronto FC defender won’t be a long-term injury worry for the team.
A bigger issue for the team at this point is the Fire’s attack. Although somewhat subdued against Montreal, the Fire’s attack was dominant and impressive for the entire match against the Union – albeit not very ruthless in front of goal. But with a wealth of midfield options and several talented forwards, we could have been forgiven for expecting better from the Fire’s attack against the Rapids.
Surely Marco Pappa was going to follow up his impressive display against Philadelphia with another stellar performance on the wing for the men in red? And after making his Major League Soccer debut late on in the match at Toyota Park, the stage seemed set for Rafael Robayo to properly announce himself to the rest of the league. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Pappa and Robayo both struggled on the wings and their substitutions in the second half were welcome changes by Klopas. Meanwhile, Grazzini and Pardo were also subpar in comparison to the standards we’ve come to expect from them, although there’s the possibility it was just an off-day for the latter pair. I’m not so convinced that’s the case for Pappa. The Guatemalan has found consistency hard to come by during the past year and Sunday’s match was another match chalked off as a disappointment. Few, if anyone, doubts his ability, but his tendency to disappear for long periods of matches is already becoming a concern in 2012.
A few tweaks in defense, tighter marking, and a better display of effort should be enough to tighten the ship in the back and avoid giving up more goals like the one’s scored on Sunday by Colorado. As for the Fire’s attack, it could take a little longer to really get things going and be able to see the full potential of this team. The 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield looks perfect on paper, but the execution and effectiveness in the final third has been anything but faultless during these first three matches. Against Montreal and Colorado, Chicago failed to control the midfield and lacked the impetus to go forward and cause problems for the opposition defense, meaning chances were few and far between.
And against the Union at Toyota Park when the midfield was able to dictate the pace and control possession, the final ball in attack was often disappointing and the link-up play between Oduro, Nyarko and Grazzini – the main playmaker in this team – was a sign that there is still much room for improvement.
With the season still being young there is absolutely no need to push the panic button yet, but it is simply worth noting that the Fire have more work to do on the attacking end of things than they do in defense. It will be interesting to see how much Klopas is able to fix in this area before Houston’s visit next weekend. For starters, we could see several changes in the team’s starting eleven (no pun intended).
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