After being fairly consistent with his lineups so far this season, Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic shook things up at two positions ahead of Saturday's match at the LA Galaxy.
Goalkeeper Jorge Bava had played every minute and right back Michael Harrington had started every match, only sitting for 12 minutes, in the first eight matches of the season. Paunovic sent both to the bench against the Galaxy and brought in two first-time starters in Matt Lampson and Drew Conner.
Lampson started 11 matches in 2016 while battling with Sean Johnson for the starting goalkeeper spot, but hadn't played since August. Conner came up as a midfielder through the Fire's academy and after only playing in the USL in his rookie season in 2016 had made four substitute appearances in the midfield in 2017. Conner's first career MLS start came at a new position, right back.
Here's a look at how those two fared plus the Fire's defending on corner kicks, which cost them the win.
Matt Lampson back in goal
To be perfectly honest Lampson wasn't asked to do much. The Galaxy put two shots on target, both off corner kicks and neither of which Lampson had much of a chance to save. The most he was tested was on a Emmanuel Boateng cross in the 67th minute. It wasn't on goal, but Lampson did cleanly catch the ball instead of allowing a loose ball rebound situation. Lampson came off his line on a couple occasions to prevent breakaways and was able to catch one of Giovani Dos Santos' corners. He dribbled out of pressure on one occasion and didn't have any errant passes.
It was a mistake-free showing similar to Bava's shutout against Real Salt Lake in the home opener when he didn't make any saves. Lampson let in two goals that weren't his fault and didn't make any distribution errors.
Drew Conner's first MLS start
If making a first MLS start wasn't enough to test Conner's nerve, he had to do so in a new position and against Ashley Cole and Romain Alessandrini. Cole, a 36-year-old who played for Arsenal and Chelsea and has over 100 caps for England, isn't as fast as he used to be, but is still one of the better left backs in MLS. Alessandrini is the Galaxy's newest designated player and has been the team's top attacking threat this season.
Conner had been training as a right back with the Fire, but this was his first game time at the position outside of a 12-minute stint against New England on April 15 when the Fire were up three goals and a man. Conner was subbed out after 75 minutes and managed to not get burned on a goal, but he did get burned a few times.
Alessandrini got behind Conner on two occasions in the first half hour. The first time he got a cross away and the second time Johan Kappelhof slid over to cover for Conner and give LA a corner.
Conner was higher up the field than right winger Luis Solignac on quite a few occasions early. It's hard to tell if this was tactical or Conner being too high up the field for a defender. Solignac did seem to drop back to cover Conner in these situations.
Conner's defensive highlight is probably this marking job he did on Alessandrini as the Galaxy winger went to head a cross (try not to be mesmorized by the left side of the Fire's defense being sliced and diced by Bradley Diallo).
When Emmanuel Boateng subbed into the match late in the first half for an injured Jermaine Jones, Alessandrini moved to the right. Boateng was fresher at that point and is faster than Alessandrini. He got by Conner a few times to get away clean crosses, but nothing came of them. Boateng is LA's version of David Accam. He burns a lot of people on a regular basis.
Offensively, Conner completed 21 of his 30 passes and didn't attempt any crosses. He had a couple nice touches and passes in traffic, but didn't contribute much to the attack.
Corner kick defending
The Galaxy had eight corner kicks and scored two goals from them. Lampson caught one and one was floated to the edge of the box where Boateng collected it and there was no header. Out of the six corner kicks where there were headers, LA won four of them and three led to shots on goal. This cost the Fire the win.
Daniel Steres, who scored LA's first goal, also had a free header on an Alessandrini free kick in the 72nd minute that could have given LA the lead, but went over the bar.
The Fire's lack of movement on LA's first goal is staggering.
Paunovic will likely prioritize improvement from his team on defending corner kicks this week.