Jun 2, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez (45) makes a save San Jose Earthquakes defender Jimmy Ockford (15) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire earned a much-needed win against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, but goalkeeper Patrick McLain left the match with an injury.
Here are three things we learned from the match:
Patrick McLain’s unlucky break
McLain made his third straight start in goal for the Fire, but left late in the first half with an apparent hamstring injury.
“It’s bad,” coach Veljko Paunović said. “From my experience that injury could take six-to-eight weeks to recover. If it was mild, I doubt that he would go out. If it was a minor tear maybe sooner, but we’ll see.”
McLain first joined MLS with Chivas USA in 2012. After making two appearances and only one start with Chivas USA in two seasons, he spent two years in the United Soccer League before signing with the Fire in 2016. He only appeared in the final game of that last-place season.
Orlando City picked him up in the re-entry draft before the 2017 season and promptly traded him to Minnesota United FC, where he never played a game.
Richard Sanchez had won the starting job for the Fire this year out of preseason. At 29 and with only three MLS appearances in more than four seasons, it seemed like McLain was destined to be a backup.
He surprisingly got his chance with the Fire May 26 in Orlando. The Fire won 2-1 and McLain made five saves. He earned another start four days later in Philadelphia and Saturday’s game made it three straight.
The injury is a tough break for a player who waited a long time to get regular minutes in MLS.
Paunović shifts back line
Not only did McLain leave injured in the first half, but the Fire had an unusual back four.
Johan Kappelhof remained a stalwart at centerback and Kevin Ellis has been a consistent starter at right back since Matt Polster went down with injury in the second week of the season. The other two spots were not as expected.
Brandon Vincent has started all but one game this season at left back. Against San Jose, he played next to Kappelhof at centerback. Vincent played centerback in the preseason when injuries limited the Fire’s options. Still, he hasn’t play at that spot consistently in MLS matches.
In Vincent’s place, Jorge Corrales played at left back. It was Corrales’ third start of the season and third in a row.
The shuffling isn’t a good sign for what Paunovic currently thinks of centerbacks Jonathan Campbell and Grant Lillard, who have combined for nine starts this season.
Aleksandar Katai emerges as most dangerous attacker
Nemanja Nikolic won the Golden Boot last year and is having another solid season with six goals. That said, Nikolic is a pure finisher and doesn’t create his own chances.
Katai had a goal and chances for more against San Jose. Katai joined the team as David Accam’s replacement and had an up and down first few games with the team. Lately, he’s been on a roll with two goals and two assists in his last four matches.
Paunović has remained somewhat critical of Katai when asked about his play.
“I think he has more to give,” Paunović said after the win.
Otherwise, it seems clear Katai has become the Fire’s most dangerous player on the ball.
“Katai, in my opinion, he’s been very, very good and he’s very dangerous,” forward Alan Gordon said. “He adds a different dynamic to our offense.”