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Sporting Kansas City tops Chicago Fire in 4-3 thriller

Mar 10, 2018; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Gutierrez (21) reacts after scoring a goal against the Chicago Fire during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – As quickly as the Chicago Fire brought Toyota Park alive with a second-half surge of energy on Saturday night, Sporting Kansas City killed that spirit even quicker.

After trailing all night, three unanswered goals in the span of 12 minutes had given Chicago its first lead by the 82nd minute and brought the home fans roaring to life. Two minutes later, however, Sporting Kansas City drew level and within two more minutes the visitors retook the lead.

“I think coming back in the game was very important but as I said this is the game where you have to take advantage of your opportunities and you can not allow opportunities, especially not so many and so innocent, not good,” Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic said.

Sporting KC saw out the final four minutes and stoppage time to earn a 4-3 victory over the Fire in front of 14,021 fans at Toyota Park. It was a season-opening loss for the Fire, while Sporting KC improved to 1-1-0 after losing its opener at home last week.

“We didn’t have a good first half and we believed we could come back,” Chicago midfielder and captain Dax McCarty said. “We did, and then less than 10 minutes to go at home should be able to see the game out. I think it’s a good lesson for us. We think the game’s over after we score the third goal, they keep pushing, they push harder, we don’t know how to defend, quite frankly. From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. Lot of things to learn, but ultimately you lose the game, give up four goals at home, it’s just not good enough.”

The visitors led, 2-0, at halftime thanks to goals both early and late in the half. Felipe Gutierrez opened the scoring in the 9th minute and Johnny Russell doubled the lead in the 44th.

“I think especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that actually had the advantage that they had one competition game before us,” Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was the positive.

“Obviously disappointed with the final outcome of the huge effort we had in the second half, but what we learned today is that we have to get better in every side of the game and in every aspect of the game. We are not there, we didn’t have a good game. I think overall, lots of innocent and naive mistakes that led us to drop not only a point but three points in one point of the game, so we’ve got to get better.”

After struggling to break down a compact Kansas City defense, Chicago finally got on the board in the 70th minute. Debutante midfielder Aleksandar Katai got on the end of a cross from Bastian Schweinsteiger and beat goalkeeper Tim Melia with a near-post header.

Four minutes later, reigning Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic scored his first of two goals, knocking in a close-range rebound after McCarty’s header was saved. The Fire took their first lead of the game in the 82nd minute when Nikolic made it 3-2, assisted by Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster.

Kansas City didn’t let the home fans revel in the lead for long. In the 84th minute, Jimmy Medranda beat Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to make it 3-3 and then in the 86th minute, the visitors retook the lead with a fluid move for the winner. Russell cut in from the wing, found Daniel Salloi who backheeled the ball across the box. Gerso Fernandes let it roll through his legs, occupying the defense, and Gutierrez buried the close-range chance for his second goal of the game, silencing the Chicago crowd and eventually sealing the three points.  

“I think we played with a little more urgency,” McCarty said of the second half. “In the first half there was no sense of urgency. We were playing the ball side to side, weren’t penetrating, weren’t getting in behind them, it was really comfortable for them to defend us and in the second half we made them uncomfortable. We got the ball wide, our crosses were better in the second half, we were dangerous. It’s simple, good teams like Kansas City if you just ping the ball around in front of their backline the whole game they’re going to be comfortable. So credit to us for the reaction in the second half, showed character, obviously, but it was ultimately you look at the game and it’s a very frustrating day at the office.

“You want to set the tone for the season the right way, you want to win the game, you’re ten minutes away from the headline and the storyline being: ‘Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2’ and yet here we are sitting here somehow losing that game which is insane, it’s totally insane.”

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