Season Recap: May and June
The Fire would open up the month of May at Chivas USA without head coach Frank Klopas and defender Jalil Anibaba after both were suspended following a post-game tussle with Seattle Sounders FC the week before.
Anibaba’s absence in the match paved the way for the debut of 2012 first round SuperDraft pick Austin Berry, who would partner next to Friedrich in the middle of the back line. The rookie’s first MLS match didn’t get off to a great start as he was judged to have fouled veteran striker Alejandro Moreno on the edge of the penalty area, which eventually led to Juan Pablo Angel putting the Goats ahead from the spot in the 23rd minute.
Berry would show his resolve just two minutes later when Sebastian Grazzini collected a clearance at the top of the area and lobbed the ball for the first-year defender who slid to poke it past Chivas ‘keeper Dan Kennedy in the 25th minute. The turn of events was accentuated by the ESPN Deportes camera flashing to Klopas up in the radio booth wildly celebrating before punching the wall.
The Fire would hammer Chivas the rest of the match but were thwarted by Kennedy time and again. Deep into stoppage time though, Marco Pappa and substitute Federico Puppo played a brilliant combination up the right flank which saw the Uruguayan leave for the Guatemalan who unleashed a blistering low drive past Kennedy to clinch a 2-1 come-from-behind win.
The Men in Red returned to Toyota Park for a two-game homestand five days later. A scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake on May 9 was highlighted with the induction of the longest-ever tenured Fire player and current RSL assistant coach C.J. Brown into the Ring of Fire. A veteran of 13 seasons with the Men in Red, Brown gave an emotional halftime speech as he joined the likes of Nowak, Klopas, Kubik, Wilt, Bradley and Armas in the club’s Hall of Fame.
Three days later the Fire welcomed Sporting KC to Toyota Park. The team would lose defender Arne Friedrich just before the half hour mark and two minutes after he made way, Sporting went up 1-0 when Bobby Convey clinically finished Roger Espinoza’s cross from the right. A Sporting meltdown would help the Fire get back in the game as Dominic Oduro was brought down by Aurelien Collin in the box. Sebastian Grazzini stepped up and buried the equalizing spot kick in the 61st minute. Less than 60 seconds later, Espinoza would receive his walking papers for needlessly elbowing Grazzini at midfield.
It looked as if Sporting would be capable of earning a draw but in the 81st minute, forward Kei Kamara was careless with the ball in the box allowing Patrick Nyarko to dispossess him on the left before centering for Oduro who touched the ball over the line to earn another 2-1 victory.
The result would be the beginning of a sort of odd four-game, 2-1 scoreline reversal as the following week Jalil Anibaba’s 39th minute goal wasn’t enough to overcome the smaller confines, turf and two goals scored by Portland at JELD-WEN Field on May 20.
The Portland away match began the team’s busiest portion of the season, playing five competitive matches in the span of 14 days. Returning home to host Brimstone Cup rivals FC Dallas three days later, the Fire would come behind once again when Sebastian Grazzini’s beautiful looping goal and Marco Pappa’s rebound from the Argentine’s saved penalty kick erased Matt Hedges’ 41st minute strike.
Three days later, the Fire traveled with over 700 supporters to Columbus but the boisterous support didn’t seem to aid the Grazzini-less side and the team found itself down 2-0 at halftime courtesy of Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria. The Fire battled in the second half but Austin Berry’s second goal in three weeks wasn’t enough to get the team a share of the spoils in the 2-1 defeat.
The team forwent Memorial Day weekend and bussed immediately from Columbus to suburban Detroit for a third round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tie with the USL Premier Development League’s Michigan Bucks. Having worked for the amateur side for two years, the match marked a special occasion for this writer but the result was far from it.
Playing in the close confines of an indoor stadium, the Fire never quite seemed comfortable and went down 1-0 inside 10 minutes. Corben Bone leveled from Federico Puppo in the 28th and Bone returned the favor for the Uruguayan in the 51st to give the Fire a lead. The home-standing amateurs showed more heart though, using Nate Boyden’s 79th minute equalizer to send the match to overtime before Nermin Crnkic’s 93rd minute goal gave the Bucks the eventual win and pushed the competition’s 2011 runners-up out at the first hurdle.
The Fire entered June by traveling to New England and the unfriendly Gillette Stadium turf. Torrential rain came down throughout the day and night in Foxboro and the Fire hit the post twice through Gonzalo Segares and Dominic Oduro. The match would mark the re-debut of forward Chris Rolfe, deemed fit enough to play a month and a half after rolling his ankle in training. Almost immediately as Rolfe entered the match, the Revs would find two goals in the span of three minutes from Kelyn Rowe and Benny Feihaber, sending the team to its third straight defeat.
The June international break came and went and the Fire reconvened to welcome the New York Red Bulls to Toyota Park on Father’s Day. The time away seemed to help as the Fire would go up early when Sebastian Grazzini’s cross from the left found Patrick Nyarko flying through the air to head into the top corner, clocking Red Bull defender Roy Miller in the process.
New York would equalize after the break when Mehdi Ballouchy’s corner kick picked out the head of Dax McCarty but the Fire would carry the attack the rest of the way. The home side looked to take the lead in the 64th minute when Rolfe slid Oduro in alone past Conde, leaving the Ghanaian’s shot to be partially saved by Red Bull ‘keeper Ryan Meara. The ball slowly trickled towards goal and eventually completely over the line but Conde recovered to clear it and referee Baldomero Toledo ruled that it wasn’t a goal.
Furious, the Fire brought an onslaught and would gather the actual go-ahead goal four minutes later when Marco Pappa played Gonzalo Segares into the box on the left. The Costa Rican international’s first effort was bobbled by Meara but Segares roofed the rebound into the back of the net causing a raucous celebration. The Fire continued to pour on the pressure and would clinch the 3-1 victory when Nyarko penetrated down the right before crossing for an unmarked Chris Rolfe at the back post. The veteran striker easily tapped the effort home, marking his first goal back with the club and helping to end the team’s three-game losing streak.
Six days later the Fire welcomed Columbus to Toyota Park and took another early lead when Pappa’s right-footed rocket from 30 yards out beat a completely outstretched Andy Greunebaum less than two minutes into the game. The Fire would add a second in the 26th minute when Grazzini slid Oduro through. Unlike the week before, this time Oduro’s shot got past the ‘keeper and no defender could clear it, giving the Fire a 2-0 lead.
Just as it seemed the team would coast to an easy victory, an ill-timed challenge from Segares on Crew midfielder Kevan George more than 70 yards from goal resulted in the Costa Rican’s dismissal from the game and the Fire having to play a man down for the remaining 61 minutes. The Crew would pull one back through Tony Tchani in the 36th minute but stellar play from Sean Johnson and his back line would earn the Fire a deserve 2-1 victory.
The team would close out the month of June with a visit to East-leading Sporting KC on June 29. A muggy 8pm kickoff saw the Fire play a very compact style, allowing home-standing Sporting the lion’s share of possession while the Fire looked to catch them out on the counter. The plan worked in the 58th minute when a clearance out of the back left the Fire with Oduro, Pappa and Rolfe going forward. Pappa played a quick combination with Rolfe into the box before unleashing a blast that eluded Jimmy Nielsen.
Sporting KC entrenched themselves in the Fire’s end the rest of the game, providing nervy minutes for both sides. Sean Johnson made some key saves and the team’s bend but not break defense worked in earning a valuable 1-0 victory over KC. The win gave the Fire a three-match winning streak heading into July and put the team firmly in fourth place with an 8-5-3 record through 16 matches.