The Fire’s back line made the most glaring mistakes during its 3-2 loss last Sunday to Chivas USA. A misplayed long ball led to the first goal, and Chivas scored a late game-winner on a free header off a corner kick.
But the back line isn’t the only problem the Fire needs to correct for the game Sunday at the Portland Timbers.
Against Chivas, the Fire possessed the ball only 44.7 percent of the time. It let Chivas to keep the ball for long stretches and generally control play, except for one stretch when the Fire rallied to tie the score at 2.
That will have to change against the Timbers. And as midfielder Jeff Larentowicz pointed out, road teams tend to struggle to keep possession in MLS, making the Fire’s task even tougher.
“Portland is definitely more of a possession-oriented team, and they do keep the ball well, so it’s something we’re prepared for,” Larentowicz said. “When you’re facing a team that possesses the ball well, you have to defend well as a team. You have to get people behind the ball so that even if they are keeping it, they’re not creating dangerous chances.”
Keeping the ball more also would give some relief to a back line that is clearly a work in progress. Chivas challenged Fire goalie Sean Johnson with seven shots on goal and 14 total chances.
The Timbers, who drew 1-1 last week against Philadelphia, have the potential to do more damage. Portland finished 2013 atop the Western Conference and scored 54 goals, 24 more than Chivas.
“If you are good on the ball, if you are careful with it, you can possess it,” Larentowicz said. “You’re making good decisions on the ball, it can limit what the other team does.”
If that happens, it would be an upgrade over a season-opening effort coach Frank Yallop criticized during a media teleconference. He didn’t like the defense, the possession, the energy or much else.
He did like the two-goal comeback sparked by subs and potential starters Benji Joya and Quincy Amarikwa, though their efforts were undone by Bobby Burling’s 88th-minute goal. Now the Fire has to try to salvage something out of its opening two-game road trip.
“I’ve just got to keep pushing them and testing them and building what I feel is going to be a good team moving forward and a good team going into the rest of the season,” Yallop said.
“There can’t be any faint hearts. They’ve got to be strong characters, and they’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to want to be part of this unit and want to be part of this team.”
NOTE: Fire coach Frank Yallop told reporters Saturday in Portland that forward Mike Magee won’t play Sunday against the Timbers. Magee, the reigning MLS MVP, has been dealing with a hamstring problem since early in training camp.