Take a second to exhale.
The Fire earned their first victory of the season with a 3-1 decision over the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park. Things weren't looking good midway through the first half after the visitors grabbed a lead in the 17th minute despite the Fire controlling most of the play up to that point. Jamison Olave's volleyed second ball from a corner kick and Chris Rolfe's botched penalty kick attempt left a feeling of dread in the air as it seemed that the club was headed for another disappointing result at home.
That changed just before the whistle to end the first half as Daniel Paladini stepped in front of a ball that New York goalkeeper Luis Robles probably should have been more aggressive in pursuing and headed it into the back of the net. Paladini has played well in a fill-in role since about half way through last season and he was the key to victory in this match. His goal and subsequent play that included two assists could be the catalyst for reversing the early season fortunes of a team that needed a bit of a break. The wind holding up the ball long enough for Paladini to get onto it combined with Robles' hesitation may have been the break that was needed.
The Fire will have a difficult follow up to this match with a road trip to Houston on the horizon. Arne Friedrich is expected back for that game and the Fire are no longer winless. Things are suddenly looking up but there's a long way to go.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - Registered three saves and two of them were quality stops that kept New York from regaining the lead. A 41st minute save to thwart Luyindula on a counter after a terrible pass by MacDonald was the best of the trio. Distribution also continues to improve.
D Wells Thompson (5) - Not a natural right back and it shows from time to time on the defensive end but Thompson has contributed two consecutive creditable performances at the position.
D Austin Berry (6) - The back line was more cohesive in this match and Berry was solid throughout even channeling a bit of Arne Friedrich with a couple of runs forward. The Fire do need to improve set piece defending and second ball clearances but that should get better with Friedrich's return. Picked up a bit of an unnecessary yellow card early in the game.
D Jalil Anibaba (5) - Also had a decent game but the New York goal came on his side after a corner kick was headed back toward the middle. Will probably move into the right fullback spot once Friedrich is back in the line-up.
D Hunter Jumper (5) - Had some issues in the defensive end but did manage to serve in several helpful crosses. A few had a bit too much air under them but the 44th minute service (which apparently was caught by the wind) found Paladini for the tying goal.
M Logan Pause (6) - It's probably no coincidence that the team was more composed and controlled midfield more effectively with Pause in the line-up. The success of Larentowicz and Pause in a dual holding role may force Klopas to rethink the early season formation that deployed Larentowicz alone next to a more offensive minded center mid.
M Jeff Larentowicz (6) - Probably his best game in a Fire shirt to date. Chicago controlled possession in the first half (57-43) and passing accuracy overall was much improved at 74%. His shot from the top of the box in the 24th minute resulted in the handball call giving the Fire a PK attempt and he assisted on the third goal with a header back across the box to an open Santos.
M Joel Lindpere (5) - Also had his best day in a Fire uniform with positive activity particularly in the first half. Narrowly missed giving the Fire the lead in the 55th when he managed to beat two defenders to get at shot at Robles' goal but his attempt rolled inches wide of the post.
M Daniel Paladini (7) - Easily the man of the match for the Fire with one goal and two assists. Good on set pieces and in combination. An aggressive move to beat Robles to Jumper's 44th minute cross reignited the club after what could have been a disheartening first half if the Fire had gone in trailing after controlling most of the initial 45 minutes. "It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It’s a team effort and it felt good," said Paladini after the match. Check out his post game comments here.
M Chris Rolfe (4) - In a bit of a funk to start the season and his first half complete miss of the frame on a penalty kick could have been disastrous. Rebounded in the second half with better touches but it's hard to ignore the botched spot kick. Started the match in between Paladini and Lindpere with the dual holding mids behind them but moved up a little closer to MacDonald/Santos in the second.
F Sherjill MacDonald (5) - Better effort but still a ways to go. Giveaways resulting from careless passing on more than one occasion could have been costly. His cross led to Larentowicz's shot resulting in the PK. Subbed out in the 63rd for Santos.
F Maicon Santos (6) - Was quiet for twenty minutes after entering the match but found himself on the end of an excellent ball from Paladini and came through with a fantastic move to get by Olave and a classy finish to beat Robles. Also in the right spot at the far post in the 89th to seal the victory. Santos is a streaky player who scores in bunches when he's hot....I'd be surprised if he's not starting in Houston. See his post game comments here.
M Corben Bone (5) - Entered the match for Rolfe in the 87th and had a chance to score the club's fourth goal but his touch failed him and Robles handled the opportunity easily.
M Mike Videira (5) - Subbed in for Lindpere in stoppage time as the Fire looked to kill the clock.
- Gonzalo Segares missed the match with a right hamstring/quad injury suffered during training on Friday. Segares said after the match that the injury is not serious and he hopes to be back in time for the Houston game.
- Philadelphia Union defender Bakary Soumare was in attendance but it was apparently nothing more than a social visit. Soumare still has a home in Chicago and stopped in during an off day. He's returning to Philadelphia for training on Tuesday.
- The Fire Reserves got pasted in a 6-1 loss played after the main event. Yazid Atouba scored the only goal for the Fire, who featured several Academy players in the contest. The line up (Tornaghi; Jiminez, Lillard, Leon, Videira; Bone, Pineda, Atouba, Gonzalez; Colin Rolfe, Amarikwa).
Fire Confidential Podcast
The latest episode of the Fire Confidential Podcast is up and available. The guests are ESPN's Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman. You'll want to give this one a listen. The topics discussed include the Fire's slow start and what they need to do to improve, the future of Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid as USMNT goalkeepers, Landon Donovan's self imposed exile, and ESPN versus NBC Sports Network. Twellman even has some light hearted advice for Section 8 Chicago.
Interesting and entertaining feedback from both on the local and national soccer scene.