I pulled into the lot at 3:40 PM. I was excited but not excited. The weirdness of last week’s performance and the uncertainty that massive roster turnover brings hang over the match. What exactly am I about to witness? Anxious to get in I went to the gate. A wait ensued. I was early. Gates opened at 4. Was that new? Felt new. Got inside and ascended to the Fuego Box. Joey was already there. Hanging his fleet of banners. Hugs were exchanged and things started to feel normal. The Fuego Box appeared to have a lake in it. Water permeated most of the front rows upstairs. A stadium crew was trying to sweep some if it away further down from us.
I saw the lineup on the Fire’s Instagram page. They opted for a video style post. I had to watch it loop 4 times before I could fully process the lineup. Well this is different. Jones to the midfield with Palmer behind him on the left with Gehrig and Stephens operating on the right. Polster getting the start at holding mid! Quincy instead of Kennedy leading the line. The Fuego Box was atwitter with words and phrases like bold, interesting, different, with a few more interestings thrown in for good measure and finally a this is certainly something. Jones vs Mo Rosales was going to be a key battle today. Target the old man with the pace and attack ability of Jones.
The stadium slowly filled in. Sparky came out looking unmotivated and fat. No mercy was spared in the evaluating of fat Sparky. We hope the man under the hood was just a replacement and that the real Sparky called in sick today. Both anthems were sung, tifo was displayed, fireworks were shot off and we got underway.
The first half was entertaining from the Fire. A fairly solid half with a constant undercurrent of concern thrown in. Jones was winning the battle against Rosales. Consistently beating him on runs with Shipp mis hitting a few passes towards a streaking Jones. Quincy to Jones in the 24th was the best chance to score. Jones forced a good save out of Ousted. The 26th minute saw the Fire work a terrific set piece with a Shaun Maloney shot that looked destined for upper corner headed away. While this was going on operation “KILL MO ROSALES” was in effect. Three to four hard tackles in a 20 minute span forced the 34 year old filth bucket to be subbed off. Palmer walked and chatted with Rosales while he got subbed off. Oh the filthy shit that must have been said between those two.
Your undercurrent of first half concern came from the right side of defense. Michael Stephens and Eric Gehrig are not very pacey. It was constantly exploited by Vancouver. As the half wore on it became clear that Gehrig is a terrible right back. His positioning was terrible, his recovery pace non existent and he was constantly caught out far up the pitch after contributing to a turnover. Did I mention all his passes were over cooked? Several led to turnovers.
Jeff Larentowicz was better but he still clears the ball back to dangerous spots. Being able to keep the ball alive is an excellent trait for a defensive midfielder but not so much for a center back. Adailton and Palmer were solid in the first half.
The second half. Oh my the second half. My notes tell me that the first ten minutes were a no energy no offense type of situation. Matt Polster made one hell of a trackback tackle in the 53rd minute saving a goal. Fantastic play by the rookie. We may have something with him. Minutes later Polster concedes a free kick in a very dangerous spot (he is indeed a rookie). The tackle could have led to a second yellow. Yallop smartly subs him off shortly after this. Replacing him with Kennedy Igboananike. Igboananike took his customary striker position and Quincy partnered with him but appeared to be in a slightly withdrawn role. The defense switch up. Jones to LB. Palmer to RB. Gehrig to CB and Larentowicz to D mid.
In the moments after the substitution an immediate jolt to the offense was noted. Kennedy looked great and brought pace and toughness. Most notably Harry Shipp slalomed through the Vancouver defense (getting a little lucky on the way) and his effort eventually finds Stephens in the box for what should be a sure goal. Stephens promptly blazes the shot to the moon. Deep sighs all around.
Then the offense just sort of sputtered out. Vancouver was pressing their advantage. Nicolas Mezquida (came on for the dearly departed Mo Rosales) was being a dangerous pest. He was full of effort and gumption. Constantly attacking and showcasing his speed and technique. In short he was becoming a problem. Jon Busch had been repeatedly forced into action. He made several high quality professional saves. Gave away no second chances and looked like the high level keeper that he is. He also bossed his back line around. Was very vocal and is everything you want a keeper to be. It was nice to have him back.
I feel this is important to note. Shaun Maloney was getting touches all game. Other than a rather peculiar corner kick in the first half he was solid and helping players to link up. As the second half wore on his first touch became worse and worse. Leading to lost opportunities and a general lack of calm from someone who should be the offensive calming force.
With the offense sputtering and the defense barely keeping things together Yallop opted to bring in Guly. This ended up being a terrible fucking mistake. He was everywhere and nowhere. Drifting deep into the defensive half for apparently no reason. Looking for a while like he was trying to play defensive mid. Occasionally he would just follow right behind the guy with the ball like a dog chasing after his owner. Yes Guly we get it. You want the ball.
Our rather disciplined offensive shape fell to complete pieces. Vancouver took advantage but their shambolic finishing denied them from scoring. Then a wayward clearance from Palmer fell to the wide open feet of Steven Beitashour. This was a golden opportunity that even Vancouver couldn’t fuck up. Busch goes to stop the Beitashour shot that never came. Beitashour easily slots it to Rivero who absolutely CAN NOT MISS from where he shoots the ball. Game over.
The Fuego Box was almost catatonic for the final minutes of the game. Sitting there with my feet in a puddle. No screeching, no words. The loss felt inevitable by the time the goal went in.
I haven’t rewatched the game and the ratings below reflect my post game live thoughts on how the players played. To catch up with the rest of my beloved Fuego de mi Vida crew we will be back with Episode 71 that should drop Wednesday morning with full thoughts on the match along with a review of MLS action from the past weekend.
Jon Busch - 6
Lovel Palmer - 4
Jeff Larentowicz - 5
Eric Gehrig - 3
Adailton - 5
Joevin Jones - 5
Shaun Maloney - 4
Harry Shipp - 5
Michael Stephens - 4
Quincy Amarikwa - 5
Matt Polster - 5
Kennedy Igboananike - 5
Guly - 2
Alex - 4