The Fire is an organization that is unafraid to take risks.
They showed that this offseason, making numerous changes to a squad that finished the 2009 season a shootout short of an appearance in the MLS Cup Final.
They showed it on Monday, when they released veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch and promoted 24-year-old Andrew Dykstra to the starter spot.
And they showed it again Saturday night, when Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos made some surprising lineup decisions for the Fire’s season opener at the New York Red Bulls.
Perhaps the most surprising decision de los Cobos made Saturday night was starting natural midfielder Mike Banner at left back ahead of defender Krzysztof Krol.
Banner was exposed in the 40th minute, when his failed clearance lead to New York striker Juan Pablo Angel feeding Red Bull midfielder Joel Lindpere at the top of the box. Lindpere made the Fire pay for Banner’s botched header, quickly controlling the loose ball before blasting an 18-yard volley past Dykstra for the only goal of New York’s 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena.
But the decision to start Banner is far from the only question de los Cobos will have to face regarding tonight’s defeat. Fire faithful will also be left wondering what happened to the new, “attractive” brand of attacking soccer they heard so much about this past offseason.
Little resembling an attractive, possession-based attack was on display for Chicago on Saturday night, as the squad struggled to create any real, clear-cut chances. Not helping the cause was the Fire midfield, who was outplayed by their New York counterparts.
First teamer John Thorrington missed the match with a quad injury, but the collective midfield’s play will have to improve should the Fire continue to be counted amongst the league’s best teams.
Also puzzling was de los Cobos’ decision to sub midfielder Justin Mapp on for forward Brian McBride while the team was down a goal with only 10 minutes to play. McBride led Chicago in scoring in 2009 and his strong aerial presence was missed when Patrick Nyarko – who replaced McBride at forward – was unable to put away a 79th minute free header in the box. One can only wonder what McBride – who was subbed off literally seconds before Baggio Husidic played Nyarko the ball – would have done with the chance.
Nyarko did play very well in his 90 minutes of playing time, and was the only Fire attacker that looked dangerous throughout the entire match. Physical forward Collins John also did well in roughly minutes of action in the second half, disrupting the New York defense and creating numerous half-chances for the Fire. It will be interesting to see how John and McBride – who combined for 20 goals at Fulham during the 2005-2006 English Premier League season – will play when given a full 90 minutes together.
Despite these few bright spots, it was ultimately a night to forget for the Fire. The team will certainly have a lot of work to do – and a lot of questions to answer – before they travel to Colorado for next week’s game against the Rapids.