Photo by Jeff Vorva
New Fire coach Veljko Paunovic greets fans after the Fire’s first home game against New York City on March 6. The team returns to Toyota Park Saturday with a game against the Columbus Crew.
This could have been a disaster.
It could have been the Chicago Fire’s version of hosting a Donald Trump rally at the University of Illinois Chicago.
On the same evening rioters took to the streets swinging fists and baseball bats at the aborted Trump rally, thousands of miles south, Fire and Orlando City players were mixing it up in a brouhaha of their own Friday night.
And when the referees cleared things up in the 32nd minute of the match, they gave out a red card and threw out the Fire’s Michael Harrington for what appeared to be a kick close to Orlando’s Brek Shea’s private parts. That came four minutes after Matt Polster was given a yellow card for a foul on Adrian Winter. In all, seven cards were flashed.
The score was 1-1 at the point that Harrington had to hit the showers and despite playing more than 60 minutes short one man on the field, the game stayed tied at that score and the Fire came up with the first point in the Veljko Paunovic era in front of an announced crowd of 29,041 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
It wasn’t a victory. But the fact that playing 10-on-11 for that long and not losing against the Lions was something the 0-1-1 Fire can take as a positive.
“Even when we were a man down, we believed we could get a point or even win,” said midfielder David Accam, whose second goal in as many games gave the Fire its lone score. “The boys did really well. They worked hard and dug in.
“I don’t know where we found the energy, but we played hard and everyone did well. We believe we can beat anyone in this league. That belief is what will carry us forward.’’
The new head coach was relieved.
“It’s never easy being down a man,” Paunovic said. “They performed well and adapted well and most of all, they left their hearts on the field.’’
Recently acquired goalie Matt Lampson was back in the net instead of veteran Sean Johnson and gave up a goal to Cyle Larin in the fourth minute of the game. Larin’s first shot was deflected by Jonathan Campbell right back to him and hit gold on the next kick.
Lampson gave up three goals in the first half and four overall in the Fire’s 4-3 loss to the New York City Football Club in the season opener March 6 at Toyota Park but the early goal in Orlando didn’t rattle him or the defense as the Lions were shut out the rest of the way.
“It’s not easy to come back from a goal early, but the team showed resilience and we did everything we could to stay in the game,” Lampson said. “That shows the heart of this team and how hard we work for each other.’’
Accam scored in the 14th minute on an assist from John Goossens, who was making his Fire debut. Accam also had a chance to give his team a lead in the 26th minute but his shot hit the post.
“The kid’s quick,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said of the Fire star. “He had a great goal. (Our defenders) have to be better. I mean, the ball is three quarters of the way on their half. We don’t expect it 10 seconds later to end up in the back of our net.’’
Crew-cial game ahead for Fire and Lampson
Which Matt Lampson will show up Saturday at Toyota Park?
Will it be the goalie who gave up four scores in the Fire’s 4-3 home loss to the New York City Football Club on March 6? Or the one who gave up just one in a 1-1 tie in a road game against Orlando City including more than 60 minutes of shutout work when his team played a man down?
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is hoping for the latter, but there is another wrinkle to consider. The Fire is playing the Columbus Crew – an organization Lampson had been with since 2011 when he signed as a homegrown player until signing with the Fire in February.
“It depends on you manage the emotions you may have in a game against a former club,” Paunovic said. “I’m sure he has a lot of friends there but we are professionals and if you control those emotions in the right way, it can be very helpful. You can be motivated in the best possible way.
“I’ll tell you, in my career almost every time I played against my former teams I scored a goal. For me, it was very motivational.’’
The rest of the Fire players will be motivated to try to kick a good team while it is down. The Crew, which made it to the MLS Championship game before dropping a 2-1 decision to Portland last year, comes into a game 0-2 after identical 2-1 losses to Portland and Philadelphia. After two weeks, just four of the 20 teams in Major League Soccer are 0-2.
“Every opponent is a great opponent,” Paunovic said. “We never underestimate or overestimate anyone.’’
The first-year coach is still looking for his first victory even though he said he celebrated Friday’s tie as if it were a victory because of playing most of the game a man short after Michael Harrington was thrown out of the Orlando City game for rough play.
The Fire’s last victory was a 3-1 triumph over New England on Oct. 3.
Four of the next five games for the Fire will be at home so this is a chance to get off to a fast start.
“The next game is the most important game,” the coach said. “We have that big picture look at the coming games but we want to concentrate on focus on the next game. That’s what I believe. That’s how we should think about it.''