That’s the only way to describe the Chicago Fire’s 5-1 dismantling of the New York Red Bulls. Take a very good team and put it up against a short-handed team that has its defense play its worst game of the season and you get a game like we saw on Sunday.
The Fire’s ability to dominate on the road this season has been one of the most impressive storylines of 2008. Chicago attacks with fearlessness and numbers, something you just don’t see many MLS teams do.
The Red Bulls can only go back to the drawing board and hope it can regroup and find a win against a struggling Houston team. Another loss just might set off alarm bells in New York.
SBI Correspondents Stephen Wattles and Andrew Keh saw the carnage on Sunday and share their perspectives on the match with us.
Fire perfect in embarrassing the Red Bulls
By STEPHEN WATTLES
As fans we convince ourselves of certain things about our teams in order to believe (or hope) in their potential. Losing to Juan Carlos Osorio and the New York Red Bulls would have shaken the foundation of 2008′s belief.
The most fundamental aspect of our hope is that Cuauhtémoc Blanco, and not Osorio, was the key to the turnaround the Fire enjoyed in the second half of 2007. Since we still have the former and have lost the latter, Sunday’s game was at some level a test of that hypothesis. A test, that if passed, would allow us, as supporters of the Chicago Fire, to believe all the other things we want to believe about our team.
But to waltz into Giants Stadium and absolutely hammer the franchise that has no imagination beyond looking to ours and cherry picking the coaches and players that have delivered the modicum of success that the Fire have enjoyed and that New York fans can only fantasize about is beyond words. The fact that Blanco was instrumental in delivering the 5-1 victory only makes it that much sweeter.
Folks in New York will likely be more focused on the problems with their team, who were barely professional on the afternoon, but I’ll be glad to hand out the credit that the Fire earned on the green cement in North Jersey.
When the line-up first flashed on the television and I saw Wilman Conde in place of Calen Carr I was happy. When the game kicked off and revealed that Conde was playing at the back and Diego Gutierrez had stepped into the midfield it was clear that Dennis Hamlett had learned his lesson from last week. The move freed Justin Mapp, Chris Rolfe, and Blanco to resume the flexible midfield that had delivered so much success in New England and DC. New York could never figure out where the three were at any given time, and they collectively wreaked havoc all afternoon, scoring two goals, collecting four assists and drawing a penalty.
Chad Barrett pitched in with a pair of goals and did a nice job holding up the ball for the marauding midfield trio as well. He still has his moments, but his decision-making is much improved, and if he puts two away who am I to complain.
Logan Pause and Gutierrez kept everything under control in the middle of the park and made it clear that they don’t plan to lose their spots when John Thorrington returns. While in the back, Conde and Bakary Soumare were solid, and are a tandem that no MLS forward will want to come up against if they remain paired. Once again Gonzalo Segares was an absolute rock rendering Dane Richards irrelevant, and pitching in with a goal.
Really, only a few things could have made the afternoon better. Holding onto the clean sheet. Conde’s header crashing into the back of the net instead of off the post. And of course, a camera on Osorio so we all could have watched as the realization of the mistake he made this off-season hit home.
I questioned the team at the beginning of the month, wondering what they could accomplish in their upcoming tough Eastern Conference road tilts. All they did was beat the I-95 corridor by a combined score of 10-1 in May. Is it too late to have Philadelphia join this year?
Now as the calendar turns to June, and the Fire head into their lone off weekend of the season tied for the most points in the league, and with the largest goal differential by a significant margin, there is no reason for anything but optimism.
Red Bulls defense humbled by own ineptitude and Blanco’s brilliance
By ANDREW KEH
There was Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Ninja Turtle-shaped soccer genius that pirouetted, bunny-hopped, scowled and giggled his merry way around the Giants Stadium turf on Sunday afternoon.
Opposing him was the chiseled striker Juan Pablo Angel, whose stone-faced expressions ranged from humorless intensity to humorless intensity washed with simmering frustration.
This spring, Angel has smiled about as often as Silda Spitzer, and on Sunday, the stars’ contrasting demeanors matched the fortunes of their respective teams.
At his idiosyncratic best, Blanco can seem like a cartoon character, mischievously bouncing through space, always teetering on the edge of brilliance and lunacy. There was Blanco in the 8th minute, dissecting the Red Bulls defense with a lofted, left-footed through-ball from beyond midfield to set up his sidekick Chad Barrett’s opening goal. There he was minutes later, stomping around the penalty box with operatic rage at the referee’s non-penalty call.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, were the unfortunate foil in Blanco’s comic book escapade.
For the second game in a row, they funneled the entirety of their attack into the outside channels, each forward move ending in a predictable cross into the box. We’ve seen this before—the Red Bulls’ considerable forward talents wasted by insufficient service into dangerous space—and by the second half, Angel was glaring at his teammates the way an oft-thwarted cartoon villain does his inept henchmen.
The return of Claudio Reyna did nothing to mitigate these problems, either. Effective wing play can only exist if buoyed by the threat of central attack, and with Reyna, Carlos Mendes and Luke Sassano ineptly manning the center of the park (only Reyna was actually passing the ball to the right team), there was none. All the while, Blanco continued his jolly romp, cruelly illuminating the importance of a creative playmaker in MLS.
For all of the offense’s shortcomings, though, they might find solace in the fact that they did not look like a pack of drunkards, as the Red Bulls backline did.
Some blame for this must be directed towards Juan Carlos Osorio, whose constant tinkering of lineups and formations finally seems to have blown up in his face. None of the players seemed to know their assignment on the field, with Mendes the paragon of this sentiment. While I understand and appreciate the importance of strategic adjustment and tactical play, something must be said for consistency, the solidification of a core group, and a familiar system which players can learn and master.
That said, there is no excuse for some of the heinous play witnessed on that day. The Fire forwards’ routine switching of sides was enough to throw the Red Bulls’ defensive assignments into disarray. And with two defensive midfielders on the field and Blanco ghosting around Giants Stadium like Dhalsim from Street Fighter II, wouldn’t it have been logical to assign one of them to track the Mexican around the field and deny him the ball? But there was Blanco, receiving possession wherever he pleased.
The lowest point of the match, the play that made me throw my hands up in despair, came on Barrett’s second goal of the match. As the Fire forward strolled into the Red Bull penalty area, no defender bothered to meet him. To be honest, no defender really seemed to know where the ball was or that it was even in play. A wide-open Barrett then received an uncontested cross and nutmegged Jon Conway with a header.
After 90 minutes, then, the referee mercifully blew his whistle, and Red Bulls sulked off the field, completely demoralized by a stout Mexican with the face of Shrek and the mischievous wit of Zach Morris.