In the buildup to the Fire's midweek fixture against the New York Red Bulls, head coach Frank Yallop reminded reporters via teleconference of the team's struggles throughout much of the 2015 term, some of which materialized during the disappointing 1-0 home defeat to the Colorado Rapids last week.
"It seems like we're not quite getting the right combination of creating our chances and scoring them, and the percentage of chances that go in against us," he said.
What a difference a few days can make.
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Barring the conceding of a first-half penalty kick and a contentious goal four minutes into the second stanza, the Men in Red showed integrity and purpose in an inspired performance Wednesday night, handing Jesse Marsch's side their seventh loss of the season behind a two-goal showing from Kennedy Igboananike.
“Any time you score two goals is good," Yallop said of the Nigerian. "I always say this, and we’ve talked about it a little bit: it takes a while for guys to settle and get their feel. It’s a tough league to come into from the outside. ... Big thing for me is, he works hard, he wants to do well, he tries his best, and he scores two goals to win us the game. So, very happy for him. He’s a good kid that works hard, and the guys really like him and back him up, and I thought he did great tonight.”
Through two-thirds of the campaign, the Fire's inefficiency in front of goal has been a worrying sign. Just four days prior, the Fire were left licking their wounds after 90 minutes had transpired at Toyota Park after falling to the Rapids. Dillon Serna's first-minute strike - Colorado's first of only two efforts on target on the night - was all that mattered despite the 20 shots (four on target) the Fire peppered at Clint Irwin's goal, three of which flew from the boot of Igboananike.
Fast forward to Wednesday night, and some of those issues - at least momentarily - were put to bed. While both of New York's only shots on target resulted in goals, two tallies from Igboananike either side of halftime stole the show. He brought his regular season total to six goals, enough to pull level with David Accam as the Fire's joint top scorer. The Nigerian's six shots accounted for a third of the Men in Red's total count (17) by night's end, many of them forcing exceptional saves from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
"We're never going to keep our head down," he said. "All that matters most is three points. We have been losing and making a lot of mistakes, but tonight we beat New York, not an easy game. It's our hard work that pays off (tonight)."
The endeavor on display on many an occasion throughout the season was there for all to see Wednesday night, and it'll have to be come Saturday night. The Fire begin their three-game road stint against Orlando City SC at the Citrus Bowl, where Adrian Heath's side has dropped five regular season contests.
“It’s difficult," Yallop added. "It’s not been a great season, obviously. We’re bottom of the league, but I feel we’ve performed better than the points have shown. That’s always a building block for me. I think that the circumstances in the season that have cost us points - individual errors, guys not being healthy - all those things come into it. I think you saw a team tonight that was pretty good. Whoever's on the field, I was excited when we got the ball going forward, it was good to see. I’m forever optimistic. We've got a big, big hill to climb to make the playoffs, but we have to keep going, keep moving on."