MLS CONFIDENTIAL: Flickering Fire, Dallas Test ...

By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America Magazine

FLICKERING FIRE: Chicago's attack rarely ignited Wednesday during a dispiriting 3-0 home loss to New England and Saturday the Fire plays at Columbus, which hasn't conceded a goal in two home games this season.

Second-half subs Chris Rolfe, Chad Barrett and Andy Herron did what they could to spark the offense, following a mostly lackluster display fronted by Nate Jaqua, who scored the only goal of a 1-0 win over the Metros the week before yet seldom threatened the Revs' goal.

Twice he latched onto passes inside the penalty area with space to shoot but both times his shots were blocked. The front trio of Jaqua, Thiago and Justin Mapp rarely clicked although Thiago's dribbles did unhinge the Revs a few times.

For Jaqua, the team's No. 1 pick and third choice overall in the 2003 SuperDraft, the competition is increasing. Rolfe scored a nice goal in a 1-1 tie with D.C. United three weeks ago in his only start, Herron is slowly regaining full fitness and Slovakian striker Lubos Reiter joined the club this week.

A forward at the University of Portland, Jaqua was moved back to midfield last season so Coach Dave Sarachan could accommodate Ante Razov, Damani Ralph and Dipsy Selolwane. All three of those players, as well as playmaker Andy Williams, are with other teams this season.

Jaqua, who had four goals and four assists last year after scoring twice in 20 games as a rookie, admits re-learning the forward position hasn't come quickly: "As a forward, there are a lot of little nuances of things you have to do to find a little bit of space to score goals," he says. "I need to find that rhythm and comfort zone. You don't have much time to work with. You have to make the right decisions when you get the chances.

"We've made a lot of changes but all the new guys are very good. I'll just keep working and wait for my chance."

YET TO BE TESTED: Much more will be known about unbeaten FC Dallas after it plays three consecutive games on the road, the first of which is Saturday at Home Depot Center against the Galaxy.

The strike force of Carlos Ruiz, Eddie Johnson and Ronnie O'Brien is proving to be potent, and a midfield marshaled by former Quake Richard Mulrooney has also looked solid. Yet while reeling off three wins and a tie against Chicago, Colorado, CD Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake a revamped back line anchored by U.S. international Greg Vanney has seldom been tested.

Defenders Clarence Goodson and David Wagenfuhr are second-year players who rarely appeared as rookies yet have performed with confidence, and Bobby Rhine is making a real go of the transformation from battling forward to rugged right back as a challenger to Philip Salyer.

After playing the Galaxy, FC Dallas travels to Kansas City and San Jose. In 12 games last year against those teams, Dallas went 3-8-1 and was outscored 25-11.

Guatemalan internationals Ruiz and Los Angeles midfielder Guillermo Ramirez did not travel to Sao Paulo for a friendly that Brazil won, 3-0, on Wednesday, so both should be fresh for the showdown at HDC.

Points on the road are vital, yet just as important for FC Dallas is how well it can keep things tight at the back and strike on the counter, which it should be able to do with a fearsome forward line and good midfield supply from Mulrooney, Simo Valakari and Carey Talley.

REF WATCH: Referee Mark Geiger whistled three penalty kicks in New England's wild 4-3 win over D.C. United last weekend, and two were controversial.

Rookie James Riley clattered into Santino Quaranta as he shot and Riley lay on the ground in disbelief when Geiger called the penalty, but Riley's wild challenge failed to connect with the ball and he chopped down the attacker. That Quaranta's shot missed isn't relevant; a bad foul was committed in the penalty area while the ball was in play.

Leonard Marshall of the Revs was whistled for a penalty when a ball he controlled with his chest brushed his arm as he turned. Technically the arm played the ball but since a player can't be expected to turn without moving his arms this call seemed a tad harsh. However, a case could also be made that Marshall could have chested the ball back to his keeper or otherwise controlled it cleanly without it touching his arm.

Eddie Johnson feigned injury after being fouled by Eddie Pope in the FC Dallas-Real Salt Lake game, and referee Hilario Grajeda sent off Pope with a straight red card. Again FIFA's instructions on tackles from behind came into play, as Pope's tackle made contact with the ball and only minimal contact with Johnson. MLS has often fined players for "simulation" and should do so again in this case even though Pope's card and suspension will stand.

FAN WATCH: Has word gotten out that the Revs are pretty good? Bad weather plagued their home opener and only 9,727 fans showed up. MLS officials will be anxiously watching the crowd count at Gillette Saturday, to measure the effect -- if any -- of the Revs' run as well as the first trip east for CD Chivas USA. Last year, New England's average crowd of 12,226 was second-worst in MLS.
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