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Home struggles have put Chicago Fire in early hole

Apr 12, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Nicolas Gaitan (20) attempts to pass against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the second half at SeatGeek Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire settled for a point against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday, which continued the team’s struggles at home. The match featured Nicolás Gaitán’s first start and more dangerous play from Aleksandar Katai, but the Fire have just one win in four home matches so far. Here’s more on those three things.

Gaitán’s first start

After two substitute appearances, Gaitán made his first start in a Fire uniform on Friday. He played 74 minutes.

He showed obvious skill on the ball on multiple occasions, but he hasn’t done anything truly influential yet.

He completed 28 of 43 passes and was credited with three chances created, although two were from corner kicks. The playmaker is still working back into full fitness and sharpness.

“He’s looking for that goal that will push his confidence and the confidence of the team,” coach Veljko Paunović said. “Generally, he’s doing well. I think he still needs to get his best form, not only getting sharper, but also fitness-wise. I think he’s progressing very well.”

Katai has been the Fire’s best player

Since joining the Fire last season, Aleksandar Katai has been one of the team’s most dangerous attackers. The way he has played in 2019 so far, he has been the team’s best player. Katai hasn’t scored and only has one assist to his name, but the numbers don’t tell the full story.

Katai was the focal point of the Fire’s attack against the Whitecaps. The same was true last week in Toronto.

He had some showtime moments in the first half, first nutmegging Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan and then crossing Adnan up in the box. The resulting shot was one of the best chances for the Fire in the first half.

Katai finished with a team-high eight shots against the Whitecaps. He leads the team in both total shots (16) and shots on goal (6) so far.

While the Fire need him and the rest of the attacking core to be more efficient in front of goal, Katai is the player that opposing defenses need to be most aware of to this point of the season.

“Our strikers are a little bit rushed in the final third,” Paunović said. “They’re rushed in finishing the opportunities or situations where we can finalize with a shot or a final pass.”

Home struggles continue

The first portion of the Fire’s schedule is front-loaded with five home games out of the first seven. With just one more of those games to come (Saturday against Colorado), the Fire have just one win at this stage of the season.

One win and two draws in four home games, plus one point in two road games, isn’t exactly a blistering start. It’s too early in the season for the gap to the playoff line to be significant, but after hosting Colorado, the Fire have three straight on the road to balance things out.

The Fire have a midweek game at New York City FC four days after hosting Colorado. NYCFC is winless, but has five draws and just one loss.

Trips to Montreal and LAFC follow. The Impact opened with six straight on the road and managed eight points in those and followed up with a home-opening win against Columbus on Saturday. LAFC is a league-best 5-0-1 and a perfect 3-0 at home.

In other words, the Fire really could use a win against winless Colorado on the weekend. After getting a home draw against also-winless Vancouver, take nothing for granted.

“We’d like to see more points, but we’re still in the process here of building this team,” goalkeeper David Ousted said. “I think, like a lot of the guys, I feel that we’ve got a team that going forward can be very strong, but we obviously need to put points on the board and that’s what we’re looking for. It’s about getting on to the next game, getting on to the next job and that’s Colorado at home.”

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