8 p.m. (ESPN2) Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL. Attendance: 15,818
With the Chicago Fire’s playoff hopes fading fast, Thursday night’s match up against DC United could easily have been categorized as yet another “must win” for the men in red. Frank Klopas opted for the same lineup as the team that earned a 2-2 draw against New York last weekend, meaning the chances of a first home win in the league since March 26th looked promising for the Fire. Unfortunately, even a first home goal for Grazzini couldn’t prevent the Fire from slipping to an MLS record 15th draw thanks to a contentious goal from former Fire striker Josh Wolff.
“It’s frustrating because our players came out with a sense of urgency and put everything on the line,” Interim Head Coach Frank Klopas said. “It’s just frustrating when you dominate a game and you should win and unfortunately it comes to an offside goal that the referees missed.”
After a dominating first half, all that was missing for the Fire was a goal. Sebastian Grazzini provided just that, completing a brilliant performance with the game’s opener in the 59th minute. Nyarko sent in a cross to the middle of the box that was only partially cleared by Perry Kitchen, the ball fell kindly to Grazzini who fired his first time effort past substitute goalkeeper Steve Cronin to send Toyota Park into raptures. Everyone in Toyota Park wondered, although somewhat cautiously, if this could be the Fire’s day.
Sadly for the Fire, a similar story would unfold 14 minutes later as DC United substitute Josh Wolff stepped off the bench to draw his side level with a thunderous shot from close range that ricocheted off the crossbar and into the back of the net. Following such an impressive display all across the field, the Fire will certainly regret taking the foot off the gas and allowing the visitors back into the game. The biggest regret, however, will certainly rest on the Fire’s inability to finish chances.
“There were chances I should’ve put away,” said Dominic Oduro. “It’s part of the game and I need to keep my head up. I’ll just try and get it right next time.”
Sadly, that seems to be a common theme this year for Chicago. Next time, there’s always next time for three points. Time is running out, however. The Fire seemed well aware of that in the opening minutes judging by their determination to attack. The home side signaled their intent early on by attacking from the offset and pressing DC United back into their own half and their first real chance would arrive in the 8th minute, and a great chance it was.
Playing in his natural center attacking position in midfield, Sebastian Grazzini found Dominic Oduro with a defense-splitting through ball, allowing the Ghanaian to cut inside his defender and fire a shot from an angle straight at Bill Hamid. The DC United keeper could only parry the shot wide, presenting the Fire with its first corner kick of the match.
With DC United camped in their own half, the Fire continued to press and Grazzini went close to scoring off a cross from Nyarko but he could only direct his header wide of the far post. The Fire continued their excellent start by continuing to press for the opener and they nearly found it too. In the 14th minute, Grazzini managed to outmuscle his defender and send a delightful through ball to Oduro who had made a run from the left hand side. With only the keeper to beat, a goal looked inevitable but not for the first time this season, Oduro’s effort came back off the far post to the dismay of every Fire supporter.
“I think the one that hit the post I could’ve adjusted my body and that’s something I need to work on,” said Oduro.
Marco Pappa nearly found a breakthrough as the half progressed, forcing a great save from Bill Hamid with a swerving free-kick towards the top right hand corner of the goal. Despite all of their early possession, the Fire nearly found themselves behind in the 41st minute. Davies managed to keep an attack alive and cross from the byline towards De Rosario, whose one time effort was well saved by Johnson. However, the rebound eventually fell to Stephen King, who blasted a powerful low drive just wide of the goal. A major let off for the Fire.
A minute later, it was DC United experiencing the biggest of let offs. On a speedy counter, Nyarko raced into the box and sent a delightful pass into the path of Oduro inside the six yard box and with the goal gaping, Oduro somehow managed to knock the ball over the net and out of play for a goal kick. Oduro will be criticized for his inability to put away his chances in this game, but he should also receive praise for getting himself into so many threatening positions time and time again. He may not have got the goal he deserved, but he was a constant menace to DC United’s defense.
“His (Oduro) movement was good,” said Klopas. “It’s about focus and concentration in the end. That’s a striker, he keeps going. You have to have the attitude to keep going.”
That’s exactly what Oduro, as well as the rest of the Fire, will need to keep doing if they want to rescue what is turning into a disastrous season for Chicago. How easily it could be different though. The Fire haven’t won at home since March, but that could’ve been different if they had been able to avoid throwing away several leads at Toyota Park, similar to the way they did tonight. Even Klopas agreed.
“You look at the games and how many of those games do we deserve to win? But that’s soccer. I thought we looked good tonight. We were organized and we have to keep going.”
One could also point to the referees for missing what should’ve been an offside goal for DC United’s equalizer. One could also question Klopas’ substitute decisions, particularly in deciding to bring off Grazzini – who had performed exceptionally well throughout the match – with 20 minutes remaining in favor of Daniel Paladini. Seconds later, DC were level.
In regards to the substitution, Klopas claimed he wanted to push Grazzini the full 90 minutes but that he was unable to stay on the pitch any longer.
“He told me he needed to come out, which is unfortunate. Aerobically he’s not there so you have to get him fit to push him through games. It’s a big difference when he’s on the field he makes things happen when he gets the ball. He scored a great goal, made some great passes and we’re a different team when he’s on the field.”
Grazzini was also announced as the Man of the Match during injury time. The only other thing going through supporter’s minds at that moment was the thought of a 10th match without a win – or possibly a 15th draw this season.
“We’re trying to put the best group out there based on performance and training. We’re all fighting for jobs for next year,” said Klopas.
In the meantime, another match goes by without a win and the Fire will need to keep on pressing for that coveted second home win of the season. The Fire did plenty right today, but in the end it boils down to poor substitutions, even poorer finishing, and an inability to finish off matches.
“We have to try and put our chances away,” concluded Oduro. “We played really well. It’s not about keeping the ball but about finishing games and that’s something we should try and be working on.”
@steveferrigan: Oduro out! Too many squandered chances. Let Barouch & Nyarko combine against Toronto. Let Oduro sub and run on tired def’s.
@spanishplans: Predicted this one before I left for the game. And left the game when Graz sub was made knowing what would happen next.
@spanishplans: “You look at the formation and it’s amazing to think you can win with that… even though it didn’t work the last 10 times”
@sensei208: maybe the focus should be on the missed scoring opportunities rather than giving up the lead. I don’t like tv guys that much but they did point out technical errors on scoring chances that hurt the Fire.