Goalless draws can sometimes be nail-biting thrillers, packed with incident, intrigue, drama and end-to-end action. They can have you perched on the edge of your seat, not wanting to look but compelled to peer from behind your quivering hands as a spine-tingling spectacle unfolds before you. You sit, open-mouthed, at the final whistle, drained of emotion, stunned into silence and blinking into the glare of the floodlights wondering how the contest you’d just witnessed ended in dead-lock.
Wednesday’s game wasn’t like that.
In fairness, we were spoilt by last Sunday’s whizz-bang of a 3-0 win over Houston Dynamo – the equivalent of sipping champagne on a sun-drenched beach in the Maldives. The 4-1 home win over Montreal Impact was pretty exciting too. In contrast, the 0-0 midweek draw against Chicago Fire was like guzzling a can of flat soda in a traffic jam – little fizz and not much to look at.
I’m being facetious, of course, because not every game can be stacked with goals and not every match can be memorable. The effort was there. The end product was not.
So let’s take the positives. A seventh clean sheet of the season which, from 14 games, is very impressive. And with the tie, the Rapids’ unbeaten run stretched to three games, with just one goal conceded in that spell. Seven points from a possible nine, a solid base with which to take to FC Dallas on Saturday, for what will be the team’s last MLS match for three weeks (returning with a home match against Vancouver Whitecaps on June 28).
But the stats tell the tale. Over 90-plus minutes, the Rapids managed two shots on target … which was two more than the Fire. That said, the visitors, had the best chance of the night when Juan Luis Anangonó headed narrowly wide following a hopeful hoof upfield from Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in the latter stages.
A Chicago colleague warned me before kick-off that, with the lineup put out by Frank Yallop, he couldn’t see where a goal was going to come from. He was right. Defensively, the Rapids were not overly stretched. It was in the midfield where the battle was being fought. Chicago Fire have now drawn eight of their 13 games – more than any side in the league. And they’ll be pleased with prizing a point away from Commerce City and avoiding the same fate which befell fellow-Eastern Conference teams, Montreal Impact and Houston Dynamo.
Yet, for all the stifling soccer employed by the lukewarm Fire, the Rapids struggled to shake off the shackles. Yes, there were many personnel changes, but where was the spark, the creativity, the understanding, the chemistry, the imagination and the speed of movement (both running off-the-ball and passing)? All were pretty much in evidence against the Dynamo. There was a dynamism to that display, not apparent 73 hours later against Chicago.
And, yes, I noted the succession of corner kicks, one of which produced a header wide of the mark from Drew Moor, but they were rare rays of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy night, literally and metaphorically.
I wholeheartedly accept that you cannot win every game, although that is your intention. I also acknowledge that squad rotation is a necessary evil to keep rested folk fresh, incoming starters sharp and maintain a happy locker room. The season is a minimum of 34 games, and it’s impossible to expect the same 11 guys to see you through from March to October. There will have to be tinkering, for the reasons already given, but head coach Pablo Mastroeni admitted that the team lacked quality where it mattered.
“I don’t think we were as clinical as we wanted to be in that final third,” Mastroeni said afterwards. “And I think that in games like this, it’s got to be real sharp, it’s got to be done with a bit more urgency in that final pass, that final shot.”
The tempo increased with the introduction of Deshorn Brown. His mere presence seemed to inject that urgency to the Rapids, while also instilling a fear in the Fire. But, by then, the game had also found its rhythm, from which it’s often tough to alter. Game-changers rarely work in isolation, but need support. There were flickers of opportunity. A tidier touch here, or better finishing there, could’ve made all the difference.
Chicago – like others before them – came with the intention not to concede. They played their part in the performance. It takes two to tango. Thank goodness we don’t have to trip the light fantastic with those guys again this season.