Chicago, traveling to the City of Angels for the second weekend in a row, was hoping to steal three points away from the Galaxy and extend their unbeaten streak to nine games. The result instead would be their 5th loss of the season, first loss under interim coach Frank Klopas, and a continuation of the woes that keep the Fire out of the W column.
Both the Fire and Galaxy came out aggressive early, looking to strike the first blow against the other, with the better chances happening on the Fire’s side of the ball. As the game would unfold, the typical characters on the Fire’s squad would perform consistent to their 2011 campaign. Patrick Nyarko would give the LA midfield and defense fits on the wing, charging forward numerous times as a viable offensive threat. Nyarko nearly scored in the 13th minute, save for a solid defensive move by LA’s Greg Berhalter. Chicago would manage four shots on goal in the first half, while the Chicago defense shut out the Galaxy, who would manage no shots on goal in the opening forty five.
As has been the case most of this season, however, Chicago would concede a second half goal and again find themselves backed against a wall. In the 58th minute, a foul to the left of Sean Johnson by Logan Pause would result in a Galaxy free kick. David Beckham, still nursing a slight stress fracture in his back, would stand over the ball for the ensuing kick. Beckham lofted a perfectly placed volley towards goal that would find an unmarked Landon Donovan on the back post, who would head home a strike past Sean Johnson to give LA the lead. Donovan, not picked up by the Chicago defense on the free kick, slipped into position easily before being marked by Gonzalo Segares, although by the time Gonzo picked him up it was too late. LA 1, Chicago 0.
Chicago would continue to fight back, as has been the case too many times this season. The positive side to Chicago conceding a first goal this season is that every game has resulted in them striking back at least once to draw the match even, and tonight would be no different. Just four minutes after conceding the goal to Donovan, Patrick Nyarko would again collect himself to the right of Josh Saunders goal. An LA defense, respecting Nyarko’s ability to cut into the box, perhaps gave him a bit too much room, as Nyarko was able to send a ball into the center that would find the head of Colombian Cristian Nazarit, who drove home the equalizing header in the 62nd minute for his second goal of the season. Chicago had again fought back, and the team looked poised to, at the very least, continue their unbeaten streak with a draw.
Chicago would get rattled once again however, and it would cost them the game. A corner kick in the 65th minute, another set piece by David Beckham, would curl into the box, skidding off the pitch before sliding past Sean Johnson and into the far side of the net. To Johnson’s credit, it appeared on the replay as if he was partially blocked by an LA player during the play, but Chicago looked clumsy and disoriented, conceding a goal that should have never slid past the Chicago defense.
Chicago would continue to fight back after allowing Beckham’s goal, pressing the LA defense further, as well as bringing in more offensive firepower as Diego Chaves subbed in the late minutes for Jalil Anibaba and Orr Barouch for Marco Pappa. Pappa, who started on the wing but has struggled since coming back from Gold Cup duty, continued his struggles as he likely played his worst game of the season. Creating few chances on the wing, Pappa surrendered the ball on a number of occasions while again attempting to hold possession too long, giving time for defenders to swarm him and steal the ball. Even in the midst of five goals this season, Pappa’s becoming more known for his poor field vision than he is for his striking ability, something that needs to change for the Guatemalan, quickly.
Pappa, along with central mid Logan Pause, continue to struggle to have a positive impact in their positions, while Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko, and Daniel Paladini continue to be bright spots in Frank Klopas’ Starting XI.
The game would end with some tension, thanks to a dirty tackle by Chris Birchall in stoppage time. Birchall, who took down Gonzalo Segares back in April at Toyota Park with a hard tackle, did the same in stoppage time to Patrick Nyarko as Nyarko streaked down the sideline on a break. A bench-clearing ensued, and Birchall, who under most circumstances would have received a straight red for such a silly challenge, got a yellow card from referee David Gantar. Josip Mikulic, a defensive sub on the Fire bench, would receive a straight red card for his involvement in the scuffle, something that should seem ridiculous to either team since Birchall’s challenge clearly could have caused bodily harm to Nyarko, who was brought down repeatedly by LA all night long.
Nonetheless, MLS’ questionable referee jobs continue, as another botched call by Gantar (not his first on the night), while not necessarily a game-changer, does result in overtly-aggressive play succumbing to inconsistent foul-calling, given some of the far less severe challenges in the league this season that have resulted in a straight red.
Chicago, understandably frustrated, must now turn their attention to Tuesday’s USOC quarterfinal match against New York. The game, to be played at Toyota Park, finds Chicago the heavy favorites, as Hans Backe has already stated that he plans on trotting out a heavily-weighted reserve side against a Chicago team likely to field a number of starters. The game, if going as planned, will likely find Chicago advancing to the semifinals against the winner of the Sporting KC/Richmond Kickers game. The Fire then welcome expansion Portland Timbers to Toyota Park next weekend, in a game that will hopefully swing momentum their way in MLS play and head them into the month of August riding a win streak.
Image courtesty of Chicago Fire