Winning away in LA


Is it disloyal for me to say I didn’t expect that last night? I don’t think so.

If I’d sat here and predicted Friday that Carlos de los Cobos’ side would run out to a 3-0 first half lead, you would have called me crazy and you would have been correct.

So much news the past two weeks has  been centered around the new arrivals of Designated Players Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg, but neither were on the field as the Fire tallied three goals in the span of 19 minutes.

When Mike Banner slammed home the rebound from Marco Pappa’s effort to put the Fire ahead of Los Angeles 3-0, you were thinking one of two things: Am I seeing things? When was the last time the Fire even scored three goals?

Answers:  No and just under a year ago, August 23, 2009, a 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids.

Last night at The Home Depot Center we saw a team that looked positive, happy and confident – I wasn’t there, but it came through on the broadcast clearer than the Galaxy’s LED boards…

While Freddie Ljungberg was the big new attraction (seeing him in a Fire kit will take some getting used to), there were a lot of good story lines that came out of this game, with rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s impressive MLS sticking out the most.

Building off the opportunities he received earlier this month in SuperLiga, the 21-year-old’s performance was vital in preserving the three points on the road. He looked poised, confident and only when he gave up a free kick late for handling the ball outside the box did the Liburn, GA product look shaky.

“I think it was good, overall it was comfortable,” said Johnson about his MLS debut. “That’s the most important thing coming off two games in the SuperLiga, I had confidence coming in. It’s another game, it’s an important game.  To start off with a win in the second half of the season was huge for us.”

Conceding two goals isn’t necessarily a dream performance for any goalkeeper but simply glancing at the score sheet is doing Johnson a disservice. Both LA goals came from Landon Donovan penalty kicks – something that’s as automatic as my morning cup of coffee.

Aside from Johnson’s strong debut, Collins John continued to his return to fitness, scoring his second goal of the season and going 90 minutes for just the third time this season and first since April 10 vs. San Jose.

Patrick Nyarko’s return after nearly a month away from action was also a bright spot.  The Ghanian-born winger provided more of the things expected of him this season, dazzling to beat defenders one-on-one and earning his team-leading seventh assist by springing John behind the Galaxy backline for the game’s second goal in the fifth minute.

 Marco Pappa’s opening strike was what set off the disbelief. The fourth minute goal was the earliest the side has bagged this season and was really the spark that spurred the team on to handing the Galaxy their first home loss since last September.

While many begrudged Carlos de los Cobos for lineup decisions the past month, he and his training staff have worked to get players healthy for the second half of the season. Now the side is the healthiest it’s been since January, with even long-injured players Calen Carr and John Thorrington returning to training.

Sitting on 20 points, the club sits mired in the middle of a number of teams battling for playoff positioning. Last night’s performance combined with the reinforcements of Ljungberg and Nery Castillo integrating into the team should strike fear into the teams that are mired with the side in the MLS playoff race.

Up next Sunday is a “six-pointer” of sorts as the New York Red Bulls come to Toyota Park with the attacking force of Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel as well as the possible addition of a certain Mexican defender…. A win in that match would the pull the Fire to within four points of the Eastern Conference’s second automatic berth and go a long way in the continued boost of the teams confidence.