Saturday, March 26, 2011
Posted: 7:17 p.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
Contributor to CSNChicago.com
Goals from Diego Chaves, Gaston Puerari and Marco Pappa lifted the Chicago Fire to a 3-2 victory over 10-man Sporting Kansas City in the team's home debut.
The Fire earned their first win of the year in a testy affair on a frigid afternoon. The game kicked off with a stiff breeze and a just-quite freezing 32 degree temperature.
"Three points, first game of the year, I think we're happy about that," Fire midfielder and captain Logan Pause said. "Obviously we made it pretty interesting. The priority is the first game at home, setting the tone three points, crucial."
The Fire's first goal was scored on the counter attack half-an-hour into the game. A Kansas City free kick inside the Fire defensive zone was cleared with a lob pass over the Kansas City back line that a streaking Puerari took on a breakaway.
One-on-one with Kansas City goaltender Jimmy Nielsen, Puerari was fouled from behind by Kansas City striker Omar Bravo.
Referee Jasen Anno awarded a penalty kick on the foul, and after a two-minute verbal fracas that migrated from the penalty area to the sidelines and back, Bravo was given a red card and sent off.
In both of the Fire's games this season, their opponent has had to play a man down for significant time. Last week against FC Dallas, the Fire had a man advantage for 38 minutes. Saturday, it was nearly an hour.
Chaves took the penalty kick for the Fire, blasting a bending shot into the right corner of the net.
It was the second breakaway opportunity for Puerari in as many games. In the Fire's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last week, Puerari had a similar oppurtunity, but his shot was saved by Kevin Hartman.
Puerari broke through four minutes after the first goal, cutting in behind the Kansas City defense inside the penalty box in rhythm with a Michael Vidiera lead pass. The goal was Puerari's first of the year and first in MLS.
Chaves and Puerari both signed with the Fire coming from separate Uruguayan clubs in the offseason, and are best friends off the field. That chemistry has manifested itself in three of the Fire's four goals on the season.
"We have different styles, but the same mentality," Chaves said. "We know where the other is on the field, we know where the other guy moves,"
Pause isn't surprised at the tandem's success.
"I think it's important that they work when they have the ball, and they work when they don't have the ball, and that's so important in this league," Pause said. "I'm just happy they were both rewarded with goals tonight."
Kansas City pushed back in the second half, despite their player disadvantage. Teal Bunbury entered the game for the former Wizards at halftime and was able to create opportunities as a right wing and striker, exploiting the Fire's three-man defensive core.
Bunbury's play highlighted several minutes of sustained offensive pressure from Kansas City at the onset of the second half. Kansas City would break the shutout six minutes in, when Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson took an aggressive line to intercept a crossing pass and missed, leaving Kansas City midfielder Chance Meyers with an open net and plenty of time to strike.
Johnson took responsibility for the goal after the game.
"The second half they put a decent amount of pressure on us, and the first goal I should have dealt with it better," Johnson said. "I'll put that one on my back."
Marco Pappa scored in the sixtieth minute to reestablish the Fire's two goal lead. Summoning his inner Derrick Rose, Pappa went through four Kansas City defenders with an ankle-breaking drive to goal that started outside the penalty area.
"He's such a great player, and his head, it's always up," Chaves said of Pappa's goal. "I was to his right, and he was always looking to me, and just the look the guys came with me and he got his space."
"I think it was a lucky goal," Pappa said with a head shake and a chuckle.
Kansas City would get that goal back when Bunbury, serviced by a errant backpass from Chicago's Gonzalo Segares, beat Johnson on a breakaway in the seventy-third minute.
Pause said that the second-half defensive lapses are to be expected, given that it's early in the season and Kansas City had no choice but to full-out attack.
"It's tough when you're up 2-0, up a man, they're just throwing numbers forward, and they have to take risks," Pause said. "Some of those risks paid off for them."
Even if it's easy to excuse the goals, Pause called the second-half performance careless.
"Concentration, we let it slip a little bit. Those are things at this point of the year, we're kind of wiping our brow, saying 'phew, we got away with one' We'll take the three points."
With 12,157 in attendance on a not-ideal day, head coach Carlos de los Cobos was pleased that his team matched the intensity of the supporters with their play on the field.
"We need to create a very strong advantage for Chicago Fire here at home," de los Cobos said. "Last season we lost a lot of points, we lost games and the intention of this year is different, and I am very satisfied. I know we need to improve in some things, but what's most important is that players create a great community in each other, and they are fighting every minute."
"We have no stars this year," Chaves said of the team's mentality. "We're just players that want to take things how do you say? 'To put the Fire on the top.'"