How did Pat Phelan not bury that pinpoint Kenny Mansally cross into the back of the net? It was the clearest look at the goal all night and Phelan heads the ball out. He could have been a hero forcing extra time. As it turned out, the Fire did not have to go through that route.
What can you say of Cuauhtémoc Blanco? He was the engine that drove the Fire all night long and his nifty bit of footwork finished off a really nice bit of hustle shown by Patrick Nyarko to put Fire over the top. Nyarko also provided Blanco with the second best chance when the Mexican midfielder stroked the ball over Reis and it hit the crossbar. John Thorrington came up with the first goal after Marco Pappa deferred to him.
Nyarko's introduction came at the cost of Brian McBride who had to leave after a collision with Matt Reis.
In retrospect this forced move by Denis Hamlett proved pivotal to the game as Blanco, Thorrington, and Pappa abandoned the long ball to the box approach which had proved a failure against a vigilant Reis and with Nyarko blistering the right with his speed and Thorrington down the left, the Fire really opened up their game as Blanco and Pappa, always a livewire, working inside began taking their chances.
Not to cast aspersions on McBride, he remains a great warrior and a playoff goal leader, but the Fire's over reliance on the big target man and the attack was beginning to look one dimensional. Nyarko's arrival changed all of that. I remember reading Jonathan Wilson's article of a "false nine" and here was a perfect example as Emmanuel Osei had a torrid time defending him.
Shalrie Joseph was kept quiet though out the match by Brandon Prideaux, Logan Pause, and CJ Brown who disrupted the midfield presence of the Revs, helping the Fire especially in the second half exert control of the ball. Mauricio Castro's exit with a gashed hand also took away a step or two. An early chance by Edgaras Jankauskas and the last minute nailbiter by Pat Phelan were their two clear looks.
The Fire is slowly tipping this absorbing rivalry their way. The Revs with their critical injury problems had no Chris Albright, Taylor Twellman, and Steve Ralston, all huge playoff performers. Steve Nicol has some heavy rebuilding to do but first, tip your hat to the man. He took his lumps for his overcautious and defensive approach in the regular season. In the playoffs it was different, as the club with the deck heavily stacked against them responded with an attractive brand of no holds barred soccer. This is what the MLS should be about.
The Fire now meet Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference Finals and we get to see Cuauhtémoc Blanco again. And just for the name, Baggio Husidic.