Fire makes a point before Toyota Park opener

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Sure, the Fire wheeled and dealed during the offseason to bring some offensive firepower to a team that has struggled in recent years to score goals.

Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho and Dax McCarty are expected to bring some scoring savvy to a team that averaged 1.1 goals per game in Major League Soccer matches the past two years.

But on Saturday, it was good ol’ David Accam who was the lone Fire player to score and to avoid bringing the team home pointless. Instead, his goal at the 73-minute mark gave Chicago a 1-1 tie against Columbus in the season opener at MAPFRE Stadium.

The Fire picked up a point with the tie and its aggressive play in the second half give the team some steam as it hosts Real Salt Lake at 1 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Park.

Accam led the Fire with 10 goals in 2015 and nine in 2016, which isn’t a lot in the MSL for a team leader. The top five goal scorers had 16 or more in 2016 with Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls leading the league with 24.

Accam, who has had injury problems the past two seasons, could become a huge scorer if he stays healthy and Saturday’s game was a good start.

"It feels great,” Accam said of his goal. “For me, my confidence is going higher and higher. I am happy to get on the score sheet in the first match of the season."

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic didn’t see a lot of spark from his team early as the Fire was down 1-0 after Ethan Finlay’s goal at the 17-minute mark, so the second-year coach called an audible from the sideline.

"Thirty minutes into the first half, we switched to 4-3-3 and that helped us to spread a little bit more in the midfield line, so David Accam could be closer to Brandon Vincent and help him to cover Harrison Afful, because he was obviously very dangerous in the first half,’’ the coach said. “And then, we also dropped Dax McCarty to help out in the defense and cover Federico Higuain better. And then (we received) a huge, huge commitment from the guys, it's all up to them.

“Whatever we, the coaches imagined or whatever we want to do, whatever is the plan, it's about the player so I think (it was a) fantastic reaction, I'm proud of our players and our comeback was great."

The home crowd could see a new goalie in the net as 35-year-old Jorge Bova will likely get the nod over Matt Lampson. Sean Johnson and Lampson were the goalies last year and Johnson was traded during the offseason in a three-team deal after spending seven years with the Fire.

Bova made three saves in the Columbus game.

McCarty and Nikolic didn’t score and Juninho was suspended for a game for receiving a red card on Nov 26 with Club Tijuana.

“We only learned of this situation midweek,” said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. “We petitioned the Mexican Federation through U.S. Soccer, but we were denied. While disappointing, we remain confident in our roster and look forward to Juninho’s debut at Toyota Park.”

McCarty is happy with his team’s ability to score a point on the road before heading home.

“There is a lot of potential on this team,’’ he said. “I still think we have a long way to go, for sure. We're a project. Obviously we were missing a very important player in Juninho. I thought John Goossens stepped in the middle of the field and played really well, had a couple of good chances, probably could've scored a goal. I thought for the most part we grew into the game. It was a tough first half but the second half we showed more of our potential. We were dangerous.

“We have to get Toyota Park back to being a fortress. We have to make sure teams are scared to come play us there.’’