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Chicago Fire settle for draw against New York City FC after key lineup changes

CJ Sapong and Alexandru Mitriță each scored first-half goals in a 1-1 draw at SeatGeek Stadium.

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — After an ugly loss in San Jose last week, there were some lineup changes for the Chicago Fire, but they didn’t result in a win.

Goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm debuted and leading scorer Nemanja Nikolic came off the bench. The Fire scored first, but settled for a 1-1 draw against New York City FC on Saturday afternoon.

When asked after the match about the changes, Fire coach Veljko Paunović said it was a technical decision for both.

Kronholm, who signed with the team earlier this month, finished with one save, playing well off his line when the Fire had possession. David Ousted had played every minute of the season entering the match.

“As we said in the past, Kronholm was our long-term target,” Paunović said. “We always thought that he was going to improve our style, which we expect that still he’s going to do better, even though today he showed just glimpses of his capability of delivering very good balls in the buildup. I think he helped the team a lot.”

Paunović later clarified that Kronholm will start Wednesday at D.C. United. Unsurprisingly, Ousted wasn’t pleased with being benched.

“I told Pauno I was disappointed with him not playing me,” Ousted said. “I thought I deserved a little bit longer leash.”

The other big change in the lineup played a big role early in the match. CJ Sapong, who took Nikolic’s spot at forward, scored the first goal. It came following Video Review.

Brandt Bronico crossed a ball in the box towards Sapong, who got just enough of a touch on it to have the ball slowly roll off the post and into the net. Initially Bronico was called offside, but the call was overturned and the Fire (4-5-5, 17 points) led in the 28th minute. Nikolic entered the match in the 78th minute.

“I think we needed to play this way,” Paunović said of benching Nikolic. “That’s all. Nikolic is an important player for our team. He has been in the past and will be in the future. Rotations will happen as the season starts to become very busy.”

May 25, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) takes the field before the game against the New York City at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Both Sapong and Nikolic now have five goals on the season. Sapong showed frustration in the Fire’s inability to convert more of their chances in the first 35 minutes of the match.

“We feel like that most of the games we play,” Sapong said. “Obviously it’s no secret. We’ve been struggling to execute those chances.”

NYCFC (4-1-7, 19 points) equalized in the 40th minute with a shot from distance from Alexandru Mitriță, a ripper from outside the box that tucked inside the side netting.

Video Review again played a role in the second half. Mitriță made a long run through the heart of the Fire’s defense and was dragged down by Raheem Edwards. Initially, it was called a penalty, but was changed to a free kick just outside the box, which Mitriță put off the Fire wall. 

In the Fire’s previous two home games, the Fire had blown away New England, 5-0, and Minnesota, 2-0. They followed with an ugly 4-1 loss at San Jose. This home draw was better than last week’s performance, but still featured defensive lapses.

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