FuegoCast #73: Victory at Last

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s first victory and clean sheet of 2015, a 1-0 home result against the Philadelphia Union, look around the League results, quickly review the weekend’s international matches, preview Sunday’s home match against Toronto FC, Joey returns to ask Where Are They Now, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Stephen is on assignment, Nick is walking in place at work, Joey delicately describes the discipline from Sunday’s game, Elle nominates a new official Fire player for Fuego de mi Vida and WB05, Joey tries to find the value in luxury hats, Elle plans a lovely movie going experience for Sara and Rudy, the Tweets and Huddalis section hits a new high, and the gang reviews the big event from the weekend: WrestleMania.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Elle Harrer, Joey T, Sara Corona
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 56:29

Download:
Fuego Ep. 73

FuegoCast #72: Fire’s Keepers, Loser’s Weepers

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s 2-1 San Jose stadium opening loss and review the status of Sean Johnson as starting goalkeeper, look at the weekend’s MLS games bereft of excitement, preview the Sunday game at home against Philadelphia, and Joey asks us Where Are They Now?

Also, Rudy calls in from the San Diego airport trying to get home, Nick leaves the show early to get back to work, Harry Shipp gets a new nickname, Rudy gives his review of Avaya Stadium, Joey revives old ghosts in his section, Gregg fails to deliver the huddalis and Gregg and Rudy mourn the loss of a fallen lucha libre star.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott, Joey T
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 42:40

Download:
Fuego Ep. 72

View from the Fuego Couch – Matchday Three at San Jose

My Sunday started off with a nice breakfast at a quality diner. It was busy but our waiter Max was at his hilarious best. Clearly dolled up for his best money making day of the week. Hair on point. Jokes on point. Service on point. Coffee was only so so but I’m not holding my snobbish tendencies against the man.

We returned home and I fired up the television for Sunday’s big matches. I absent mindedly watched the Classico. Vaguely rooting for Real. Irritated that I wasn’t able to find a reliable stream for OM (They won!). Brushed about a pound of cat hair off of Sunshine. Flipped on Red Bulls vs DCU (Lloyd Sam is super fun everyone). Missed Mike Petke and his cardigans (nice scarf Jesse but you aren’t Mike). Suffered through the smart but yet poorly phrased commentary of Taylor Twellman. Laundered some sheets. All the while being anxious about the Fire match.

Here’s the thing. I hate Sunday Fire games. Sunday nights should be a relaxing event. Perhaps a nice film, some high quality professional wrestling or a book to let your mind wander and prepare for the upcoming week of work. Instead I’m wound up. Waiting for the lineup to get announced. Hoping I don’t see a certain name at right back. The lineup shows up and there it is. Gehrig. FUCK. In fact the entire lineup is unchanged from last week except for the return of Sean Johnson. Which in some ways is OK (Jones in the midfield!). In others it is not (Sorry Eric).

If I was at the stadium I’d be around some friends to commiserate in this unfortunate set of circumstances that has now upped my angst by 100%. Instead I’m at home. On the Fuego Couch with the cat. On the bright side I have coffee and chicken quesadillas.

I’m not a big fan of game write ups from the TV feed. You don’t get to see everything that is happening. Evaluations are difficult and someone who looks disastrous live looks OK on TV. I’m going to try anyways. Join us on the podcast this week for a live report from the match as we have TWO correspondents in San Jose. Our referee today is Ricardo Salazar.

So what did the first half bring us? Sean Johnson was not very good. Yielding two goals off of two very bad decisions. A poor decision on a corner cost the team the first goal. Sean comes flapping out and fails to punch the ball away. The corner was otherwise well defended.  We have seen this far too many times from him. It is an area of his game that he has yet to improve in any way since he started playing for the Fire. The second goal also comes from a set piece. Sean fumbles an easy shot right at him and the rebound is predictably put away. Inexcusable. Another veteran making mistakes. First week it was Jeff Larentowicz, second week Lovell Palmer. This week Sean Johnson. All of these guys are, in theory, better than this.

Is Sean really better than this? You can make an excellent argument that he hasn’t improved in three seasons. His continued call ups to the national team are starting to make less and less sense. We saw last week what a good keeper means to the team. Jon Busch didn’t make any silly mistakes. Jon Busch is one of the best keepers in MLS history and isn’t exactly at retirement age for a goalkeeper yet. Would this game of been different if Busch gets the start?

Joevin Jones and Harry Shipp combine to pull one back. A very nicely worked goal with Jones finding Shipp on a perfectly weighted pass. The Fire’s first goal of the season was a pretty one. Jones calmness on the ball is one of his defining traits. He doesn’t seem to panic and is a composed attacker.

The rest of the first half sees the Fire hold a lot of possession and looking like a composed MLS side for more than just five minute stretches. Eric Gehrig even looked relatively decent after a rather sloppy foul to start the game. He still conceded too much space behind him but he appeared to be more effective going forward in the first half than he was in the entire game last week. He hit an absolutely thunderous header off a set piece that was unfortunately right at the keeper. It still took an exceptional reaction save to keep it out of the net.

Halftime comes. I mute the TV. The Fox marketing machine is ungodly annoying. I am not going to watch your stupid show that isn’t about soccer after your MLS game of the week Fox. The muting allowed me to avoid the Don Garber speech at halftime for the third week in a row. Damn, that dude is everywhere.

The second half gives us the debut of David Accam. He comes on for Jones in a straight swap. Accam getting 45 minutes makes a lot of sense this week. I didn’t like seeing Jones leave the field. I was slightly baffled but maybe there was something that wasn’t right with Joevin.

Accam has an immediate impact. Looks lightning quick on the ball. Relatively strong on the ball as well. Immediately created some opportunities but his lack of playing time with his teammates rises up as an issue as everyone is not on the same page yet. I hate to keep saying that. Unfortunately this continues to be true.

The Fire hold a significant amount of possession in the second half. San Jose looks rather content to just let us probe and find weaknesses. Gehrig has a very positive half as he works well as an offensively fulcrum on the right hand side. We see some slick one touch passing from him linking up with Accam and later Igboananike (who comes on for Stephens). Accam flipped to the left later and was less effective on that side. That had more to do with a lack of service than anything he was doing though. I can see why Yallop likes Gehrig on the right. When his head is in the game he is a solid passer with a good engine who will sacrifice himself for the cause. Defensively he leaves a lot to be desired but he was better this week than he was last.

Guly shows up as the last sub in the 75th minute. Coming on for an openly irritated Quincy. Guly has a productive five minute burst and then proceeds to disappear again. Looking for fouls each time he touches the ball. The whistle never blows. Guly’s age is apparent. He looks like that old man still playing Sunday ball with the young kids and not wanting to get hurt.

The offense becomes more ragged as the match wears on. San Jose starts to control the ball a bit. Kinnear waited to make his subs and he uses all three late. Providing his team with a fresh burst to harass the tired Fire defenders. It certainly helped to disrupt the Fire flow late in the game.

Accam gets free a few times down the left as things enter desperation stage for the Fire. Nothing really comes of them though. Eric Gehrig gets an excellent opportunity and hammers a ball towards goal that Clarence Goodson ably blocks with his posterior. The clock ticks down and the game eventually ends 2-1 as San Jose claim another early season win. The Fire are off to what can only be termed a disastrous start. Again. For the fourth season in a row.

Matt Polster was effective this week much like he was last week. This time going the full ninety even after picking up a yellow in the first half. His tackling technique is excellent. His calm demeanor and good passing vision should make him one to watch as the season progresses. He is in only his second game as a professional so I will try not to get too excited.

Sean Maloney was more effective than last week but faded in the second half again. He hit some solid corners had a few excellent spells showcasing why Yallop was so hot for him. His performances aren’t good enough yet though. He will miss next week on international duty.

Overall this was a good enough performance to steal a point (or even three) in San Jose. Unfortunately our keeper gift wrapped two goals to the opposition. The Fire had long stretches of solid play but were again undone by the rather mundane performance from the bench and lack of team cohesion as they tried to overcome the mistakes that put them two goals down.

Player ratings are below. Episode 72 of the Fuego Cast will drop Wednesday morning. We will have live match thoughts along with the usual huddalis.

Player Ratings

Starters

Johnson – 2

Gehrig – 5

Adailton – 5

Larentowicz – 5

Palmer – 5

Polster – 5

Jones – 6

Shipp – 6

Maloney – 5

Stephens – 5

Amarikwa – 4

Subs

Accam – 5

Igboananike – 4

Guly – 4

FuegoCast #71: In Filthy Form

The gang returns to discuss the devastating 1-0 home opener loss against Vancouver, review the MLS action from the weekend, preview another stadium opener this Sunday against San Jose, touch on the CONCACAF Champions League, Joey asks Where Are They Now, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, The Vacuum provides some timely St. Patrick’s Day jokes via Ellen, the gang expect more from Sparky, Stephen shares a story of Sigi Schmidt at a buffet, Ellen points out the flawed logic of swimmers’ tattoos, Stephen makes a great pun, Rudy can’t stop the technical difficulties, and Gregg shows a refined ear for audio quality.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott, Elle Harrer, Joey T
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 57:06

Download:
Fuego Ep. 71

View from the Fuego Box – Matchday 2 vs Vancouver

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.

Starters

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

 

Subs

Kennedy Igboananike – 5

Guly – 2

Alex – 4

 

 

Breaking Down the Breakdowns: at LA

Here we are, folks. A new season and new defensive miscues to look at. Let’s see what went wrong last weekend.

Communicate and Clear

My top two soccer pet peeves are teammates not communicating and a player not using their weaker foot when it’s clearly the better option. Well, guess what we saw with this goal…

This sequence starts off with the Fire dropping back to defend their own half allowing Omar Gonzalez to distribute from deep. Shaun Maloney closes down Gonzalez with Harrison Shipp in a good position to provide cover and shut down the penetrating pass and force the play wide. Gonzalez finds Stefan Ishizaki who had success 1v1 on the right side all night long against Joevin Jones. Usually a long ball from the back isn’t much of a note, but this will become an issue again later.
1 Villarreal 1

Ishizaki collects the pass in a dangerous position and I’m not at all happy with the time and space he has on the ball. To be fair, this advantage is more a product of good positioning on Ishizaki’s part than poor positioning by the defense. Ishizaki places himself as far wide as possible to use the width of the field and give himself time to collect, touch, and cross, while riding the offside line to cross behind the defense.1 Villarreal 2

By the time Jones applies pressure, Ishizaki is ready to send the cross between the defense and Sean Johnson and the forwards make their dangerous runs before the defense tightens up their line. A perfect low cross puts Jose Villareal 1v1 against Johnson.
1 Villarreal 3

The cross comes in and Villareal thankfully doesn’t anticipate the run and the defense recovers. The only problem is Lovel Palmer and Jeff Larentowicz attempt to clear the same ball. In the moment, it is difficult to decide who should attack the ball as Larentowicz has the first opportunity, but Palmer has the momentum and better body positioning to clear it out of danger. There must be communication between them and it must be assertive and immediate to prevent any mishaps.
1 Villarreal 4

This is a terrible Monday night league attempt at a clearance trying to swing the right foot around the body to deflect the ball somewhere else instead of using the left to knock it back from where it came and away from goal. There was no aim to the attempted clearance; just get a foot on it and hope it finds its way away from goal. Meanwhile, both Villareal and Robbie Keane anticipate any error by making runs to recover a missed clearance. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket and Villareal ended up winning a chance at a goal and finished to the far post.
1 Villarreal 5

Defend the Rotation

This next goal is particularly displeasing as multiple mistakes compound to a fantastic volley from Keane. Let’s take a look at the buildup again as this starts in almost the same way as the first goal.

This sequence starts with another Omar Gonzalez long ball only this time the Fire have dropped deeper into their own half. At this point the Galaxy were much more likely to score their second goal than the Fire to equalize leading to a possible counter-attacking strategy from Yallop to absorb the overwhelming pressure from the Galaxy attack. Unfortunately, Gonzalez has an immense amount of time and space to collect the ball and see the field while Los Angeles start their off the ball rotations.
2 Keane 1

This is where the defense falls apart and I start losing my cool. Gonzalez takes an absurdly long touch to attack the open space in front of him knowing he’s not under any pressure at all. Alan Gordon checks to the open space and pulls Eric Gehrig with him. Baggio Husidic makes the run from midfield when he catches Matt Polster ball watching. This is how to rotate to open the space for a deep midfield run. Meanwhile, Keane waits in the distance looking for Gonzalez to hit a long ball behind the defense and Ishizaki stays wide to repeat his role from the first goal.
2 Keane 2

By the time the Fire defense realize what happened, Husidic is in position to win a header for either Gordon who follows up on the play completely unmarked, or Keane who also finds himself unmarked as Larentowicz over commits to his covering duties.
2 Keane 3

Keane pounces on the knockdown and Larentowicz almost recovers but has too much space to close down after pinching in too much.
2 Keane 4

The Fire fell victim to a Galaxy team that knows how to move to open up space for teammates willing to go forward. With Bruce Arena developing a sophisticated attack, the only question was if or when Los Angeles could finish the multiple chances they were going to create on the night.