Nine games in, Fire still a mystery

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Nine games into the season and the Fire’s identity isn’t clear. Are they the aggressive team that jumped ahead of New York City FC 2-0 last week? Or are they the group that meekly surrendered two goals to an expansion team playing a man down after a red card and had to settle for a draw?

Maybe they’re both.

“It comes with the territory when you have some guys that are newish,” Fire coach Frank Yallop said, “and for whatever reason we just get punished for certain things.”

Perhaps, but the Fire should have put away last week’s game at Yankee Stadium. Instead, they’re winless in three matches entering Friday’s game at the Columbus Crew (4-4-2, 14 points) after a performance that was halfway encouraging but ultimately disappointing.

“You can look at it as encouraging or frustrating because it’s easy to be frustrated when you see the potential to be a really good team and I think we show flashes of that,” midfielder Harry Shipp said Friday of the Fire’s first-half performance, “but we don’t often put together a full 90-minute performance.”

That’s been the bane of Fire (3-5-1, 10 points) teams for the past few years but this season was supposed to be different. The attack was built to last all game, and when the Fire had teams down they were constructed to finish matches.

That hasn’t happened, and it’s cost the Fire points that could be valuable later in the season. Two of those points were dropped last week, and in his dealings with the media this week it was apparent Yallop was still bothered by what occurred against the first-year club.

“Frustration is a good word but I can’t keep saying that,” Yallop said. “We’ve got to learn.”

This Friday would be a good time to start applying whatever lessons the Fire have picked up. They could be looking at a four-game winless streak, all but giving back any momentum they picked up from their three straight victories earlier this spring.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Yallop said the Fire aren’t doing a “ton of stuff” badly but it’s the smaller things that have cost them. It’s what Yallop called a lack of “game savviness” to finish matches, hurting a Fire team that probably should be in a better position.

“Things will change. There’s a little bit of luck involved sometimes in these games as well,” Yallop said. “We’ve played well enough to get more points than we have. Just got to prove it now, that it wasn’t a fluke the three wins we had, and we can do well.”

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