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Chicago Fire pull away for much-needed win against Colorado Rapids

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — There are no true must-win games in April, but the Chicago Fire faced something close to that on Saturday.

Given the Fire’s slow start to the season and the Colorado Rapids’ poor record, the Fire were in need of three points and prohibitive favorites to get them against the winless Rapids. It wasn’t always easy, but the Fire pulled away in the second half for a 4-1 win at SeatGeek Stadium.

For the first time in a Fire jersey, Nicolás Gaitán was an impact player. The Argentine playmaker had two assists. He set up Nemanja Nikolić for the first goal of the match on a wonder cross right to Nikolić’s head. In the second half, he got behind the Rapids’ defense and flicked the ball over to Djordje Mihailovic to score into an open net for the insurance goal.

Gaitán went the full 90 minutes, also a first in a Fire jersey in his second start and fourth appearance with the team. After struggling to assert himself in previous matches, Gaitán made big plays.

“I feel much more comfortable,” Gaitán said through a translator. “I feel like I am getting to know everybody on the team. It was a very, very good game. We started off well. We didn’t let them get back into the game, but we saw the game [out] in the second half.”

Apr 20, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Colorado Rapids during the first half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Fire have two wins in the first seven matches of the season. That’s nothing impressive, especially considering five of those seven matches have been at home, but it keeps the Fire close to the playoff spots. With a tough three-game road trip up next, points won’t be easy to come by, which is another reason why this win was so crucial. A week after failing to beat another winless (at the time) team in Vancouver, the Fire got the job done against Colorado.

Kei Kamara evened things up after Nikolić’s opener by heading in a corner kick five minutes before halftime. Kamara has now scored in four straight games.

“We were looking for a game like this,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “We were looking for a game to score and to have a win with multiple goals in favor (of us). I don’t think we started well. I don’t think the first half actually we played the way we wanted, but it helped us to understand what kind of opponent we have in front of us.”

In the second half, it was all Fire. Aleksandar Katai set up C.J. Sapong for a tap-in in the 53rd minute. Then Mihailovic’s goal doubled the lead less than 10 minutes later. Katai added a curling effort from outside the box to make it 4-1.

“We felt like we left a lot of points on the table,” Sapong said. “It was important to secure the full three points. We definitely feel good about that.”

Defensive struggles again plagued the Rapids, who have allowed a league-worst 23 goals in eight matches and have just two draws on the board.

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