The Fire has had trouble scoring even with Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald in the lineup. He’s the club’s only designated player, but he’s still without a goal this season.
On Saturday, the Fire had to do without him and couldn’t score without him, either. The club had more than enough chances, but still went down 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union before 12,205 at Toyota Park.
MacDonald wasn’t on the pre-game injury list, even though he was sick most of the week. According to team staffers, his usual backup -- Maicon Santos -- wasn’t expected to play after dealing with hyperextension on his left knee during the training leading up to the Fire’s first match since April 24.
That all changed at the last minute. MacDonald was ordered to stay home and Santos went on the 18-man game-day roster, even though he didn’t start.
"(On Friday) he was under the weather," said Fire coach Frank Klopas. "He was able to train, and he went to see our doctor. He had strep throat. We wanted to keep him away. It is contagious…We didn’t want that spreading throughout the team. We decided to leave him home and not around the players."
The MacDonald and Santos physical ailments and the red card suspension that sidelined midfielder Jeff Larentowicz forced Klopas to field his ninth different lineup in nine games. Patrick Nyarko joined Chris Rolfe up top. They helped the Fire got off 15 shots, but none went in.
Rolfe, Daniel Paladini and Wells Thompson all got off shots in a flurry in the 33rd minute. Nyarko hit the post in the 49th and Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath smothered several other good Fire opportunities. He was the best player on the field -- on either team.
The lone goal came in the 75th minute. Sebastian LeToux’ long free kick caught the Fire napping. Jack McInerney beat Fire defender Jalil Anibaba to the ball and got it past Fire netminder Sean Johnson.
"One chance, then score," lamented Klopas. "We have 10 chances and we don’t score. One little mistake, that is the game. Sometimes you scratch your head and you look at this game again, and you say `How did we lose this game?’"
But lose it the Fire did. The Fire (2-6-1) failed to score for the fifth time in nine Major League Soccer matches.
"It’s a little bit frustrating," said Nyarko. "We’re feeling a little bit unlucky right now, but I don’t like making excuses…We’re on a bad run. We’ve just been inconsistent, and things are just not falling for us."
"We played well enough to win the game and get three points, but life goes on," said captain Logan Pause. "We play the same team next week (on Saturday in Philadelphia), so we’ll have to go to their home and try to get three points."
The Fire has all week to prepare for that one; the Union (4-3-3) doesn’t. Philadelphia hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday.
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Bakary Soumare, once a Fire defensive stalwart, played all 90 minutes for the Union. He hadn’t played in a month after making a trade request when coach John Hackworth dropped him from his starting 11. MacMath felt Soumare was a capable replacement for the suspended Sheanon Williams.
"Soumare is a big guy and he likes to win balls in the air," said MacMath. "He did a really good job saving some balls and getting in the way. His veteran experience helped us."