As far as making a statement, Saturday’s from the Chicago Fire was pretty good.
The Fire thumped the defending champion Seattle Sounders 4-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd and a national TV audience on Saturday.
The Fire (4-3-3, 15 points) scored three second-half goals to pull away from the struggling Sounders (2-4-4, 10 points). Nemanja Nikolic scored a pair of goals and David Accam and Luis Solignac each had one.
The Fire took the lead in the 25th minute following a bizarre sequence. Nemanja Nikolic was awarded a penalty kick after going down in the box even though replays showed that the tackle may have been clean. David Accam's penalty was saved by Stefan Frei, but the ref had it retaken due to both teams having players entering the box early. The second time Nikolic stepped up and scored for his seventh goal of the season.
It didn’t take long for Seattle to answer though. Clint Dempsey was given room from just outside the box and stepped into a wicked left-footed shot three minutes after Nikolic scored.
The Sounders went into halftime with 61 percent of the possession, but things flipped in the second half. Coach Veljko Paunovic moved from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3, moving Dax McCarty directly in front of the two centerbacks to close off the open areas like the one Dempsey scored from.
"From there we took over the possession," Paunovic said of his team, which had 57 percent possession in the second half. "With that change, it helped the team to have the possession, stop their progressions and when we switched to 5-3-2 formation after we scored the second goal I think we definitely took over control of the game and we had a lot of opportunities from the flanks and going from inside out and outside back in and that’s how we scored the rest of the goals. I think the key was taking the possession away from Seattle."
Accam gave the Fire the lead an hour into the match, finishing off a pretty combination of dribbling and short passes between Drew Conner, Bastian Schweinsteiger and de Leeuw.
Later in the half, Matt Polster subbed on for his season debut and Jonathan Campbell also entered. The 5-3-2 formation helped the Fire lock things down defensively, as Paunovic noted, and led to goals from Luis Solignac and Nikolic's second three minutes apart.
Nikolic's eight goals tie him with Mike Magee for the most goals in the first 10 games with the Fire.
“It gives us confidence," Schweinsteiger said. "Of course Seattle is a good team. They have very good players. They won last year, but we are more focused on our game style, on our philosophy, what we have.
"We are a very good team when we understand the game, when we are moving, when everyone is giving options and when we close the gaps and make it difficult for the opponent to play so today we made a very good job, especially in the second half. Now we just have to keep going, keep working and take all the confidence what we got today for the next match and maybe play 90 minutes like today (in) the second half.”
The Fire improved to 4-0-1 at home after going winless on a three-game road trip right before this. Paunovic believes the team's improvement has been consistent despite the lack of wins on the road.
"We always say this is the best game, this is the best game so what I’m trying to say is that we can see that there is a consistency and improvement in our team," Paunovic said. "When we play at home that improvement is more evident, but also I think the stretch we had on the road also helped us to forge that mentality and that great improvement we had so far in the season, especially in the last game against LA. Finally we completed a full game with a very consistent performance in both halves, especially in the second one."
Juninho sat out the match due to an ankle sprain. Michael de Leeuw returned to the starting lineup for the first time in three matches.
The Fire play at Toyota Park again on Wednesday, against Colorado.