Same old, same old.
Another new lineup. Another Jack McInerney goal off an assist from Sebastian LeToux. Another busy, but productive night for Zac MacMath, the Philadelphia Union’s 21-year old goalkeeper.
The end result was another 1-0 loss for the Fire.
For the second straight Saturday, the Union (5-4-4) was the better team in this Eastern Conference matchup, this time at Philadelphia’s PPL Park. The Fire (2-7-1) now has a three-game losing streak and didn’t score in any of those defeats.
A more telltale streak –- at least for this stage of the still-young season –- may be in the Fire’s starting 11. Coach Frank Klopas has used 10 different lineups in his club’s 10 Major League Soccer starts and next Saturday at Real Salt Lake it could well be 11. Defender Wells Thompson was sent off again, thanks to yellow cards in the 14th and 63rd minutes, and will be suspended for the next match.
The Fire definitely needs an infusion of new blood because the current squad -– whatever the lineup -– hasn’t gotten the job done. 10 games into the season, the Fire has gone without a goal six times and scored just six goals. Only D.C. United, with five, has scored fewer among MLS’ 19 clubs.
Saturday’s latest defeat was spurred in part by the absence of midfielder Daniel Paladini. The Fire’s top scorer with a goal and three assists, Paladini stayed home with left calf inflammation. With Paladini not available, Naperville product Brendan King was included in the 18-man game roster for the first time.
Paladini might not have been a starter anyway, since Philadelphia native Jeff Larentowicz returned from a one-game suspension for the controversial red card he drew at Montreal on April 27.
The Fire wasn’t ready to play at the start. McInerney, the red hot 20-year old striker, got his eighth goal -– tops in MLS -– in the third minute. Bakary Soumare, the ex-Fire defender making his third straight start for the Union in place of the injured Jeff Parke, started the scoring play with a pass to LeToux. He set up a header for McInerney.
"We gave up a fast goal, which is tough on the road to do," said Klopas. The Fire again created plenty of chances after that, and MacMath had to make six saves.
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, recovered from a case of strep throat that sidelined him a week before, came on in the 53rd minute for Chris Rolfe but again couldn’t get on the scoreboard. The Fire’s lone designated player has gone nine matches -– seven as a starter and two off the bench -– without scoring or playing a complete game. Klopas was again asked about him after the match, but declined comment on what’s become a touchy subject.
"I am going to talk as a team. I am not going to talk about any player right now," said Klopas. "We have to regroup."
No doubt about that. With seven standings points, the Fire is 11 behind the Union. Philadelphia holds the fifth, and last, playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. After visiting RSL, the Fire has its first match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on May 28 prior to its next MLS home match, against D.C. United on June 2.
"It’s just one of those periods of time where everyone needs to stick together and keep working hard," said goalkeeper Sean Johnson. "It will come. We’ve got a great group of guys. We’ve just got to do a little bit extra, and that starts with me, with our back line going forward. Everybody on the field has got to step up to another level. We are capable of doing that."
Patrick Nyarko, playing the entire match for the second straight game --most of it up top, seconded that.
"Not a bad performance," he said of the latest defeat. "The result doesn’t match our performance.
Same old, same old.