(The Chicago Fire booked its place in the 2009 SuperLiga Final on Wednesday with it's 2-1 victory against an injury-depleted New England side. The Fire will now face Tigres in the final on Aug. 5. SBI correspondent was at the semifinal and gives us his report on the match.)
By CARL SETTERLUND
In soccer terms, being on the wrong side of thirty is an indicator that a player is in decline and can’t quite have the effect on the game that they used to. Yesterday, at Gillette Stadium, it was a bunch of thirty-somethings that put their stamp on the SuperLiga semifinals as a Cuauhtemoc Blanco free kick helped Chicago overcome a feisty New England squad, 2-1, to give the Fire its first chance at hardware this season.
After Revs rookie Kevin Alston gave up an unnecessary turnover on a terrible clearance in the Chicago attacking third, the Fire caught New England napping on the throw-in as Blanco quickly swung one in that Brian McBride finished with class in the 34th minute.
New England got one back in the 44thwhen newly signed Edgaras Jankauskas caught a lucky deflection that tricked Jon Busch for the only time of the night.
Jankauskas, the 6-4, five-time Lithuanian player of the year the Revs signed to provide depth at forward with Taylor Twellman out is still working his way back into form but at 34 he’s shown already that he still has the ability to hold the ball up front and that the technical skill is still there.
Referee Paul Ward was blowing his whistle a little too easily in this game, with some questionable yellow cards on both sides and called a ticky-tacky foul on Darrius Barnes in the 63rdto set up Blanco’s eventual game-winner.
It’s hard to know what went wrong for New England on Blanco’s goal as he didn’t just freeze Matt Reis, he sent him in the opposite direction. Whether Reis’ got a good look at the shot or not, it would have been close as Blanco curled toward the top left corner.
The Fire didn’t have an easy escape as the Revolution bombarded Jon Busch with 17 shots in the second half, several going off the woodwork or just wide of goal. Steve Nicol blamed much of the result on inexperienced mistakes and guys being shuffled in and out of the lineup and he might have a point as the likes of Jankauskas, Steve Ralston, Kenny Mansally and Mike Videira had no problem cutting up Chicago’s usually stout defense.
Blanco and McBride had moments of brilliance but as with Chris Rolfe were quiet for much of the game. The lesser-heralded John Thorrington looked most impressive and had a great work rate while rookie Baggio Husidic was also a bright spot for Chicago.
Man of the match honors have to go to Jon Busch who faced 23 shots, nine on target and turned away New England time after time as they were knocking on the door in the second half.
At this point, the Revs are so decimated with injuries that fill-ins such as Mike Videira, Pat Phelan, Chris Tierney and Nico Colaluca are starting to finally get themselves settled. Barnes and Alston, although each made errors in the build-up to Chicago’s goals, are starting to look a lot less like rookies on the whole.
As usual, Steve Ralston was the best player on the field for New England and might have been the most impressive field player as the Revs’ offense almost always flowed through him in the middle third. Kenny Mansally has enjoyed Dirk Kuyt-like success ever since a move out wide after an ineffective spell at forward. Mansally has been a revelation, causing a lot of problems for teams and developing a good chemistry with Kheli Dube.
Life has been tough for New England minus Twellman and Shalrie Joseph, with Jay Heaps with the U.S. National Team and with Emmanuel Osei suspended.
You have to commend Steve Nicol for getting these guys to bust their butt for him given their circumstances, but it’s going to be tough to win games if he needs to keep moving key players around to make the lineups work. Last weekend it was Ralston who had to slide back to left back and this time around New England lost a lot of grit in the midfield dropping Jeff Larentowicz to centre back.
One interesting subplot of the game was the back-and-forth battle between Blanco and Kevin Alston, who, to his credit, did not seem intimidated. It seems more and more Blanco is thought of as a circus act than a world-class player, as even Denis Hamlett admitted that the show is part of the package when it comes to Blanco. Maybe that perception deserves to change though as Blanco made perhaps the two biggest plays of the match to put Chicago in position to contend yet again for a trophy.
What do you think of the result? Will Chicago-Tigres in the SuperLiga final provide the Mexican-American showdown SuperLiga organizers covet? Is there anything New England can do but wait for some bodies to get healthy and hope for the best? Does his goal/assist performance put Blanco back in the discussion as one of the most influential players in MLS? Share your thoughts below…