Written by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
The Red Stars Vanessa DiBernardo and Orlando’s Becky Edwards try to get the upper leg on a play Saturday night.
CHICAGO FIRE AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
WHEN: 9 p.m., Wednesday
WHERE: BC Place, Vancouver
FIRE RECORD: 1-2-4
VANCOUVER RECORD: 3-5-2
LAST TIME: The Fire had a 57.8 percent mark possession, but gave up a goal in the 86th minute to Octavio Rivero for a 1-0 in Bridgeview on March 14, 2015.
So through seven games – five of which were at home – what have we learned about the Chicago Fire?
Well, the team can win playing in the snow. It beat Philadelphia, 1-0, April 2 in a snowstorm at Toyota Park.
But that’s been about it.
The Fire have either lost or tied in every other situation, the latest coming in the form of a 1-1 tie with D.C. United during a rainstorm Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 13, 114 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The draw dropped the Fire to 1-2-4 and in 10th place in the 10-team Major Soccer League Eastern Conference with seven points.
The offense continued to struggle with the continuing left knee injury of David Accam and Friday’s knee injury to John Goossens (he could be out four weeks) and Matt Polster banged up. While Jonathan Campbell was able to score in the soup in the first half, his goal was the only shot on target for the team and the Fire has been able to just get eight shots on target in the last six games.
“It’s been a bit of a disappointment offensively and not being able to finish,’’ said Alturo Alvarez, who assisted Campbell’s goal. “We’ll take a point, but we are going to start having to win games like these.’’
Help is on the way. It wasn’t official Monday but Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the team was close to signing 22-year-old MTK Budapest midfielder Khali Thain and the deal was done on Wednesday.
“We believe having him will be very important,” Paunovic said. “He’s very good on the ball. With him, we will increase our competitiveness.’’
The defense was sharp again Saturday, allowing D.C. Untied (2-3-4) just three shots on target but one was a header goal in the 64th-minute by former Fire player Patrick Nyarko.
The Fire is in jeopardy of being pushed even further down the ladder in last place in the conference. Its next three games are on the road and it hasn't won a road game since beating New England, July 12, 2014 – a span of 27 games.
Nyrarko spent eight seasons with the Fire and had 20 goals and 39 assists in 196 regular-season matches before being traded Jan. 6.
“That’s just how soccer works, doesn’t it?’’ said United coach Ben Olsen said of Nyarko’s header. “You know he’s going to want to come back here and get something.’’
Accam was on the bench and on the active roster for the D.C. United game but Paunovic said he was never going to play in the game. The midfielder could be back for the Vancouver contest.
Veteran goalie Sean Johnson was able to back up starter Matt Lampson after returning from a wrist injury but he was not on the available roster as the coaching staff opted to go with Patrick McLain as the alternate.
“It’s a technical reason,” Paunovic said. “We need (Johnson) to get back in the right form so that he can fight for his spot.’’
After this weekend…
The Fire has this weekend off but then squishes five games into a 17-game span starting Wednesday at Vancouver and ending at Toyota Park May 28 against the defending MSL champion Portland Timbers.
CHICAGO RED STARS AT BOSTON BREAKERS
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Jordan Field at Harvard University in Boston
RED STARS RECORD: 2-1-0
BREAKERS RECORD: 0-3-0
LAST TIME: Christen Press’s goal in the 90th minute gave the Red Stars a 2-1 victory in Boston on July 22.
This was a recipe for a crummy night.
The Chicago Red Stars, who showed they could either be brilliant (a shutout against Western New York in week 2) or horrid (giving up three goals against Houston in week 1) was forced to play without their top defensive player, Julie Johnston, Saturday night against Orlando and star player Alex Morgan.
It was up to Arin Gilliland, Katie Naughton, Carey Short and Sam Johnson on defense to try to stop the Pride and Morgan and they came through, racking up a 1-0 victory in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
Christen Press score the match’s only goal in the 65th minute and the defense pitched a shutout as the team improved to 2-1-0. Katie Naughton, one of three players on the roster from Elk Grove Village, replaced Johnston and the team didn’t miss a beat, racking up its second straight shutout.
“I think this is the first time I coached a game against Morgan where she didn’t score against us,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. "Our biggest strategy was not lot to let her get behind us. We needed to keep her in front of us and if she did something from a distance to beat us, we would have been OK with that.’’
Morgan had 99 goals in 180 appearances in her senior and national team career heading into Saturday’s action.
“This was my first time playing Alex,” Johnson said. “We trained to not let her speed kills us. We had to be aware of where she was at all times.’’
That turned out to be the recipe for a great night.
Johnston eyes return Saturday
Johnston re-aggravated a groin injury that she suffered in December but Dames wasn’t planning on taking any chances against the Pride. Or for her future in this year’s Olympics.
“She could have gone – probably for a half,” Dames said. “We were more of the mindset that we would rather just sit her. We want to get her 100 percent rather than going back and forth with it. It’s always difficult with Julie because we have a bigger responsibility. This week we were talking to the U.S. Soccer team doctor and trainer. It was basically Julie’s call today. It didn’t loosen up for her and we weren’t going to risk it.’’
Dames said he hopes she will be ready for Saturday’s game at Boston.
Being the Julie
Johnson said she tried to be to Naughton what Johnston was to her when she started.
“I remember how I felt my first game and Julie was very supportive,’’ Johnson said. “I was freaking out and she gave me confidence. I tried to be the Julie in this case and I tried to give Katie confidence. But she didn’t really need it because she’s a great player.’’