In recent past seasons, sure victories against wounded or struggling opponents have been hard to come by for the Chicago Fire. Countless late and sometimes fluky goals combined with subpar performances turned many home contests into a study in frustration.
Perhaps the tables are starting to turn somewhat. The Fire took control of this match in the first half courtesy of a backpass, or unfortunately misdirected break-up from Real Salt Lake defender Sunny, that wound up on the foot of Nemanja Nikolic all by himself behind the defense. Nikolic took advantage of the opportunity and cooly finished by the always difficult to beat Nick Rimando. Just five minutes later, in the 16th, shoddy defending by the middle of the RSL defense allowed Arturo Alvarez to double the lead.
The match wasn't pretty given the 28 degree temperature and some struggles to keep possession by the home side in the second half but the Fire capitalized when they had to and beat a team that they should beat. That's something that they haven't done in recent memory. This team has the ability to finish chances when presented with them and that will make them difficult to compete against, even when the overall play isn't consistent.
The Fire are off to a promising start, with a draw on the road and a win at home to start the season but neither opponent has been very good. That may be in part due to Chicago's play, but there's still room for improvement and a long way to go.
GK Jorge Bava (5.5) - Looked to be more confident and in control of this area in this match but he wasn't really tested at all. RSL had one weakly taken shot on goal, which Bava handled easily.
D Michael Harrington (5) - Didn't do anything specific to hurt the cause this time but 20/35 passing isn't good. The Fire and Harrington got a big break by missing Plata.
D Johan Kappelhof (6.5) - After a s0-s0 opener, Kappelhof was the Fire's best player on the backline. A whopping 18 clearances and 8 tackles speaks volumes in numbers that often go unnoticed.
D Joao Meira (6) - Three blocks and 12 clearances in helping to limit a good player in Movsisyan from many clear looks. Missed on an aerial duel or two but it wasn't costly.
D Brandon Vincent (6) - A good day of work in the back with 9 clearances and 11 recoveries. Passing left something to be desired at times. Had a good look at goal in the 87th after receiving a pass from McCarty but his attempt sailed high of the far corner.
M Dax McCarty (6.5) - After two games it's easy to see why he was so effective for NYRB. Keeps the ball moving while directing traffic on both ends even if the Fire are still missing a piece in the final third. Completed 81% of his passes, while the team finished at 70% overall. Laid it out bluntly in post-game by stating that the Fire's possession just "wan't good enough" in the second half. Delivered the pass that resulted in the first goal and started a sequence that could have led to another in the 50th.
M Juninho (6) - Free kick attempt in the 81st forced Rimando into a good save. Some good moments in combination but not quite as proficient as McCarty in the passing area at 76%. The Fire will continue to be difficult to break down with Juninho and McCarty in the middle. even if they still struggle to maintain possession at times.
M David Accam (5.5) - No shot attempts for Accam in this game. That's unusual, whether they're good looks or not. Decent in combination and had some moments on the counter but not enough to generate danger consistently. Did get back to help defensively on occasion. however.
M Arturo Alvarez (6) - RSL defenders apparently didn't hear that Alvarez will cut left almost exclusively and he exploited that lapse to give the Fire a 2-0 lead in the 16th. Also had a handful of decent sequences outside of the goal scoring play.
F Michael de Leeuw (5.5) - The work rate is there but he's miscast as a "play-maker". The Fire will continue to struggle offensively if the link between midfield and the lead attackers isn't more cohesive. He didn't have nearly enough touches to be effective (10/19 passing).
F Nemanja Nikolic (6) - Scored the first Fire goal when Sunny deflected a pass right to him and allowed him to face Rimando 1v1 in what would have been an offside position if a Fire player had advanced the ball to him. Almost scored a second in the 50th forcing Rimando into a diving save of a ball headed for the lower corner.
M Luis Solignac (5.5) - Replaced Alvarez in the 70th minute. Decent effort with Nikolic in the 76th but the chance was defended well.
M Brandt Bronico (5) - Subbed in for Nikolic in the 85th.
M Djordje Mihailovic (5) - Appeared as a late game substitute for de Leeuw with seconds left in stoppage time.