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Fire stumbles in season opener

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 Fire 9 stumble

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire player Gilberto, right, has his jersey pulled by a New York City Fire Club defender a second before hitting the ground in Sunday’s MLS loss at Toyota Park. 

It was entertaining.

But it was still a loss.

The first real match in the Veljko Paunovic era of the Chicago Fire was wide open but in the end, the team suffered a setback in a 4-3 loss to the New York City Fire Club Sunday in front of 17,768 at Toyota Park.

Paunovic, the rookie coach, and nine players making their Fire debuts (the most since the club’s first season in 1998) have made this a new-look club. While scoring three goals is fun, giving up four is troublesome.

“There was good and bad,” midfielder Razvan Cocis said.

Cocis was a part of the good as he scored the first goal in the Paunovic era as the Fire trailed 3-1 at half and Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam added second half goals.

But it wasn’t enough.

Recently signed goalie Matt Lampson got the nod over Fire elder statesman Sean Johnson, fueling speculation that Johnson could be shipped out. First-year general manager Nelson Rodriguez has shown he can pull the trigger on deals whether or not a player is popular or not. He dealt Harry Shipp to Montreal for cash during training camp in February.

Lampson, who had not played an MLS game since 2013 but owns a 9-6 career record all with Columbus, gave up three first half goals before settling down in the second half.

“I don’t think it was my best game – the first half was definitely not good,” he said. “The third goal (off the foot of Khiry Shelton, who shielded rookie Fire defender Brandon Vincent and then rounded goalkeeper Matt Lampson before tapping into the net) was on me and it’s something I need to learn from.’’

Paunovic, who is not announcing who will start Saturday’s game at Orlando, had nothing but good things to say about Lampson after the game.

“We’re happy with him,” the coach said. “Matt did very well in the last game of the preseason (a 2-0 win over defending MLS champion Portland) and the team feels comfortable with him playing. We didn’t read the game well early because there was a lot of wind against us. But after that, he did very well. He tried his best and that’s all you can ask.’’

Lampson said he will go into the Orlando City start with the same attitude he had since the Fire picked him up on Feb. 26.

“I prepare every week like I’m going to start,” he said. “I found out (before the game) that I was going to start. You have to be ready. Next week, I will prepare like I need to play. It’s good for competition. Everyone is out there trying to earn a spot. That’s all I’m going to do.’’

The Fire finished with 17 shots while New York had 20. New York picked up goals from Thomas McNamara, Tony Taylor, Shelton and Mix Diskerud. NY is just in its second year of play and finished 0-1-1 against the Fire last year.

Vincent, a former Stanford star making his pro debut, said there is work to do.

"Our job is to defend and not let in goals, so giving away four is tough,’’ he said. “But looking forward, that's what we'll work at."