RECAP: Fire’s Rally Sparked by Magee, Finished By Paladini, Draw Timbers 2-2

The Chicago Fire didn’t exactly get off to the start they wanted to at home in Bridgeview.  In fact, the only thing that could have made the first seven minutes of play worse would have been a Portland finish.  Instead, the Fire caught two huge breaks as Portland hit two crossbars that bounced downwards but didn’t cross Sean Johnson’s goal line.  It wouldn’t be long before Portland would add a shot that hit the post and steered clear of the back of the net.

The Fire would follow up a very poor seven minutes with a very good stretch of about the same length, and Rolfe kicked a ball very hard that sailed just high of the net.  As the Fire continued to generate opportunities during the brief period of solid play in the first half, Portland goalkeeper Milos Kocic’s shakiness handling shots was exposed in his first appearance of the season, but would not be capitalized upon until the second half.

A missed hand ball call that should have resulted in a Fire penalty kick instead turned into a strong Portland counterattack and ultimately a Diego Valeri strike that rebounded off the goalpost and into the net for a one to nothing Timbers lead.  What could have been a rare lead for Chicago was instead a deficit, as Frédéric Piquionne and Kocic assisted the goal.

The Fire would enter half-time trailing by a goal, and though they definitely had some bad moments, there were also occasional positives to draw from the first, having taken five shots, three of which were on target, and showed the ability to put together a strong counterattack when the opportunity arose.  Another strength the Fire put on display was the ability to enter the Portland penalty box and to close in on goal before taking their shots – three of their five in the first half were inside the box – in a fine display of patience.  Above all, the most important positive to be drawn from the first half was hints of resiliency, as the team never appeared to surrender or play with half-hearted effort after falling behind.  That same resiliency would be put to the test in the second half when they fell behind by two, and would eventually have a massive impact on the match.

The Fire came into the second half with ambitions of taking control of the match in search of the elusive equalizer.  It didn’t work out so well at first as Frédéric Piquionne set up a Ben Zemanski goal in the fifty-eighth minute that put the Fire down by two goals in front of their largest home crowd of the season, a group of 15,349 fans starving for a Chicago comeback.  The deficit would not stay at two goals for too long, as just ten minutes later, Mike Magee took it unassisted and put it into the back of the net after dribbling around Kocic.  The Fire had new life, and a new energy was sparked in the crowd that would only get stronger in the remaining twenty-two minutes of play.  Time began to wear down on the Fire’s hopes for a big point at home, but Daniel Paladini was unphased, scoring a goal on the free kick to equalize the score at two and send the Toyota Park faithful into a frenzy.  The Fire had pulled off the comeback against the team with the fifth best record in the league.  The Timbers had not lost a match in over three months, and though the streak would continue, it made the Fire’s comeback seem all that more miraculous.

Magee’s goal to draw the Fire within one set a new club record, as no Fire player had ever scored a goal in each of their first three competitive matches with the club until Magee accomplished the feat in the sixty-eighth minute.  Magee, who earned his second consecutive Chicago Fire Man of the Match award, scored his first with the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup match against the Charlotte Eagles in the eleventh minute, and put in his second in the eighty-second minute of the regular season match against D.C. United.  Magee’s third Fire goal moved him into sole possession of third of the league’s goal scoring leaderboard, moving ahead of Claudio Bieler’s seven for Sports Kansas City.  Magee’s combined total between the Galaxy and Fire of eight trails only Jack McInerney of Philadelphia’s ten and Marco Di Vaio of Montreal’s nine.  Fire coach Frank Klopas had high words of praise for the recent acquisition, saying that “it’s fantastic. I think the two moves that we made, you can see the big difference on the field already. We’re not that far off. I do feel we need to add a couple more pieces but Mike [Magee] and Baky [Soumare], you can see the impact they’ve had on the group and the difference they’ve made on the field but overall tonight, from a team standpoint, the most important thing to me is the team and it was fantastic the second 45 minutes. Now we’ve got to have that kind of urgency and mentality the whole game.”  Midfielder Daniel Paladini, who scored the tying goal, described his goal and impact Magee had on it, saying that  “I [Paladini] walked up to it, because that’s the spot where I practice the most, but I told him [Magee] that he could have the assist.  When he backed up he told me to hit it. If you look at the film, I guarantee that he [the goalkeeper] looked down and to his left and I was already going and all I had to do is get it over his head.”

Three yellow cards were shown in the match, as Portland’s Diego Chara received the first in the first half stoppage time after fouling Magee hard.  Magee, who was slow to get up after the Chara challenge but returned for the second half, would see a card of his own in sixtieth minute for dissent, as would Portland’s Will Johnson in eighty-third minute of play.

The single point in standings earned in the match puts the Fire just five behind seventh place Columbus.  The Fire still trail the sixth place New England Revolution by eight and Philadelphia – currently in the fifth, and final, Eastern Conference playoff spot – by ten points.

The Fire play host to the Columbus Crew in their next match on Wednesday, June 12th, in  U.S. Open Cup fixture scheduled for a 7:30 start time.  The Fire will then host the Colorado Rapids in a regular season match on June 19th before traveling to Columbus on June 22nd to close out the month.

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