BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — After two matches, the Chicago Fire came away saying and thinking they were the better team. They haven’t won either match.
In Saturday’s home opener against Orlando, the Fire squandered chances early on. Then a miscommunication defensively led to an Orlando goal to start the second half. It took a last-second C.J. Sapong header to tie the game 1-1.
So instead of actual wins, the Fire are left with two moral victories of sorts in two matches. In the season opener on the road against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Fire thought they played well enough to win, but lost. Against Orlando, the Fire’s push for a late equalizer while playing down a man provided a morale boost. Nevermind that Orlando finished 2018 with 14 straight road losses.
“In the first half, we should have opened the game scoring very early in the game,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “That could have changed definitely our approach through the whole match, but that’s the game.”
Nemanja Nikolić missed two clear chances in the first half, including one that he looked sure to score in the second minute. Instead, Nikolić was unable to connect with the ball in front of a wide open goal.
“On the flip side, in the second half we made mistakes and had a sloppy start,” Paunović said. “We conceded the goal, easy. A lack of communication.”
On that play, goalkeeper David Ousted charged for a long ball. Defender Johan Kappelhof had a step on Orlando forward Dom Dwyer. Kappelhof slowed, thinking Ousted would grab the ball. Instead, they both backed off and Dwyer chipped Ousted in the 47th minute.
“I made the decision to stay,” Ousted said. “Johan wanted me to come out and collect the ball. It’s one of those situations where we need to communicate better and get to know each other better as well. It’s a big part of it. We’ve only played together a handful of games and we need to eliminate those minor mistakes.”
Fire left back Jorge Corrales was sent off with a straight red card in the 64th minute. He denied a Ruan breakaway with a slide tackle from behind.
The Fire salvaged a point when Przemysław Frankowski launched a ball into the box in the 95th minute and Sapong won the header for it to score.
“If you look at the circumstances, especially at the end of the game, it’s a good point,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We showed good character. We showed good fight. I was really proud of our mentality the last 20-30 minutes. I thought it would have been pretty easy to feel sorry for ourselves with the bad weather, being down a man, conceding a tough goal. It could have been real easy for us to just put our heads down and sulk, but we kept going.”
McCarty said he believes the Fire should have two wins and six points right now. Instead, they have no wins and one point.
“You have to make that fuel you to be better, to want more,” McCarty said. “The message is clear that we are a good team and the results are going to come as long as we do things right.”