A new beginning or another false start?
With their second win over a Western Conference opponent in 22 days, the Fire roused a crowd of 14,209 Sunday night with a 2-0 victory over an FC Dallas outfit that saw the potential of the visitors' sixth consecutive league triumph – a club-record winning streak – snapped by a committed, loyal and collective effort from the Men in Red.
From front to back, head coach Frank Yallop’s starting lineup cooperated with a ‘different’ tactical approach. The positional flexibility and matureness from Designated Players David Accam and Shaun Maloney – who provided both goals on the night – shed light on a group of players that, little by little, is making strides toward grasping the philosophy and style of play.
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“The big thing is, you saw a team last night that wasn’t fighting against what we were trying to do,” Yallop told reporters Monday via teleconference. “It’s a team game; it’s not an individual game. If we ask Shaun to do a little bit more extra work, he was fine with it. Does he want to play a different position to be a bit more attacking? Maybe, but in the end, hard work, endeavor and fight won that game last night. And, tactically, catching them like we did worked.”
Despite being thoroughly out possessed and out passed, the Fire’s unrelenting drive to refuse to sit back and conversely push on for another goal paid dividends. Refreshed by an eight-day break and the return of Jeff Larentowicz to the back line, the Fire refused to sit on their propitious 1-0 lead, bucking the trend of last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution.
After keeping a red-hot Dallas and the likes of Mauro Díaz, Fabián Castillo, Michael Barrios and David Texeira at bay, the question lingers as to whether this performance can be reproduced in four days time. While the tactics on display against Óscar Pareja’s side – favoring the counterattack as opposed to possession – were specific to the Dallas game, Friday night’s trip to face the Portland Timbers will truly show if the Men in Red can muster that same endeavor and grit to string consecutive wins together in regular season play for the first time since the three-match winning streak experienced from late March to mid April.
“Dallas are a side that likes to manipulate the ball on the edge of the box, and we wanted to counterattack them and try to catch them, which we did,” Yallop added. “Having David in that role was good, it frees him up to better explode into those areas and do well.
“Shaun did a great job defensively behind on that left side to support David. We may play David in that spot again if we feel a team is going to be pushing and we can catch them on the counter.”
The trip to the Pacific Northwest could see Ty Harden and newly acquired Designated Player Gilberto enter the fold.
After dealing with niggling hamstring issues upon signing with the team, Harden will be available for the trip. Gilberto, meanwhile, is expected to get his visa soon to hopefully be able to join the Fire in Portland on Friday, which would present another dilemma for Yallop in team selection should the Brazilian's fitness be up to snuff. Lovel Palmer, who left Sunday's game in the 68th minute with a sore knee, is expected to be a feature in the squad. Mike Magee is a risk, however, as the 2013 MLS MVP did not train on Monday.
NOTE: Eric Gehrig and Matt Polster were named to the MLS Team of the Week for Week 22, the league announced Monday. Sean Johnson was named to the bench.