It took awhile for the Fire to find the help it so desperately needed this season, but trades brought in two proven players last week and Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Sandy, Utah, without one of them was an added plus.
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Visiting teams have found it tough against Real Salt Lake. The Fire, in fact, is the only Major League Soccer team with a winning record (3-2-3) when facing RSL in Utah.
Saturday’s result didn’t come easily. The Fire had only 32 percent of the possession time and goalkeeper Sean Johnson had to make eight saves. The gritty defensive effort didn’t look like enough when Ned Grabavoy, who came up through the Chicago prep ranks and the Fire Premier Development program, sent a short header to Alvaro Saborio.
Saborio converted in the 78th minute, and the punchless Fire seemed headed for its fourth straight shutout loss. Reserve forward Quincy Amarikwa had other ideas, however.
He had an inkling where to be on the field when Jalil Anibaba prepared for a long throw-in. Those generally went to central defender Austin Berry venturing into the box. RSL defenders knew that, too, and two of them ganged up on Berry with the ball in the air. Berry, though, was able to head the ball to Amarikwa who put the ball in the net with a bicycle kick in the 84th minute.
That goal ended a 358-minute scoreless streak for the Fire (2-7-2) and was only the seventh goal scored by the club this season. The last previous one had been by Jeff Larentowicz in the last win, vs. Columbus on April 20.
"The (standings) point was something to build on," admitted Fire coach Frank Klopas. "It’s one game. We’ll take it a game at a time. We have a long way to go. It’s a long season."
But, enough for the past. The Fire is a new team now – and that’s a good thing.
Last week, the club regained Bakary Soumare, the 6-foot-4 central defender who had been a stalwart for the Fire from 2007-09. Acquired from the Philadelphia Union, Soumare started on Saturday and that enabled Anibaba to move to the right side, where he played most of last season. Suddenly the long-term loss of German veteran Arne Friedrich doesn’t seem so devastating.
Klopas described Soumare as "an excellent player who just needs time" to recover from a "minor" injury.
Then on Friday, Javier Leon, the president of Andell Sports, finally brought an end to the Robbie Rogers saga. The Fire got the right to sign Rogers in the trade that sent Dominic Oduro to Columbus for Dilly Duka in the preseason. Rogers, declaring he is gay, announced his retirement but later changed his mind.
Rogers, though, just wanted to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in his hometown. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena watched Rogers in training, then wanted to sign him. He couldn’t do it without making a deal with the Fire and that wasn’t consummated until Friday when Arena agreed to give up forward Mike Magee.
Magee was the Galaxy’s leading goal-scorer, and just what the Fire needed. Not only that, he has a Chicago background. From South Barrington, the Chicago-born Magee was one of the first promising youth players to spurn high school soccer. He played for the very successful Chicago Sockers, where he got the attention of first Fire coach Bob Bradley. Bradley’s son Michael also played for the Sockers.
Next stop for Magee was the U.S. Residency Program in Bradenton, FL., where he honed his skills before turning pro. Bradley was later coach of the New York-based MetroStars, who made Magee the fourth overall pick in the 2003 SuperDraft. He was the youngest player to play for the MetroStars when he made his MLS debut at age 18.
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The Galaxy acquired Magee in 2009, and he had 19 goals and 11 assists in 105 games in Los Angeles, where he played on four clubs that reached the MLS Cup final. The last two won that championship match.
Magee couldn’t get to the Fire in time for the RSL match, but he’s expected to report on Monday and be ready for Wednesday’s first match against the minor league Charlotte Eagles in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
"He’s a Chicago kid who has done extremely well," said Klopas. "He’s a quality player, someone who’s going to add more quality in the final third for us."