BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Before Saturday, it had been a while since U.S. youth international Benji Joya saw the field for the Fire.
After having a dream start to his club tenure by scoring the first goal of the 2014 campaign vs. Chivas on March 9, Joya earned three more consecutive starts, in three consecutive draws, all at his less natural position on the left wing.
Following the team’s 2-2 decision at D.C. in late March however, Joya went a month without even seeing the field for Frank Yallop’s side.
Though he hadn’t seen the field in weeks, a trip to U.S. U-21 camp where he scored both goals in a 2-1 friendly win vs. Club Tijuana boosted his confidence, while an injury to Brazilian midfielder Alex cleared the way for Joya’s return Saturday, this time partnering with midfield mainstay Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the park.
“It was exciting,” Joya told Chicago-Fire.com this week. “Frank told me I was starting at center mid and it’s been something I’ve been wanting the opportunity for since coming to Chicago. I think we did a pretty good job, unfortunately we didn’t get the win that we were looking for.”
The late second half collapse aside, Joya’s play in midfield helped buoy what was perhaps the team’s best first half performance this season as the team ran out to a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes. While his name didn’t end up next to Mike Magee or Juan Luis Anangono’s on the score sheet, Joya played a part in both goals.
In the 22nd minute, Joya’s quick turn at the right corner of the box opened up room for him to lay off for Harry Shipp just outside the area. The Fire Academy product fired a quick shot which forced a diving stop out of RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando before Magee cleaned up from close range.
“Everything works as a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team, we score as a team. I was really happy being able to give Shipp the ball. He almost got the goal and he did the right thing taking the shot – he had a better angle than I did. He ended up taking the shot and Mike was there to rebound it.”
Eight minutes later a nice combination led to Joya laying off for Greg Cochrane who’s perfectly placed cross found Anangono high in the air before he finessed his header into the bottom left corner.
“Greg made an amazing overlap and I had to respect that so I just laid it off, gave it a very good cross and Anangono did well to finish it.”
Joya admits things fell apart in the second half as the Fire shipped three goals in the final 18 minutes of the game.
“Honestly in the end RSL wanted it more than us. You could tell the way they were coming, we had to show a little more personality like what we had in the first half. It’s about going the full 90 and that’s what will get the win every time. We have the potential to do more things as a team. We have a great team, we’ve proven it every game but we haven’t put a full 90 together this season to get a win.”
THE CENTERBACK: One Last Look Back at RSL Collapse