The Fire is having trouble scoring these days, no matter who the opposition is.
Since the exhilarating championship run in the Carolina Challenge Cup to climax preseason training the Fire has played four Major League Soccer matches, one reserve team match and Saturday’s friendly against Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League.
The Fire has but two goals to show for all six of those matches, and Saturday’s 1-0 loss to a minor league club coached by former Fire player Manny Lagos had but one highlight. Victor Pineda made a heart-warming return to game action when he entered the match on the Toyota Park practice field in the 71st minute.
Pineda suffered a torn right meniscus in November, which slowed the development of a most promising young player. He was in rehab until this week, when he returned to full training and he holds out hope for returning to the U.S. under-20 team for the FIFA World Championships, to be held in Turkey in June.
Otherwise, there wasn’t much to cheer about. Veterans Arne Friedrich (hamstring) and Logan Pause (quadricep) didn’t suit up, so their availability for the next MLS match -- on April 7 against the New York Red Bulls -- remains in doubt. Neither has played a match yet, but both were in training last week and team captain Pause was on the game roster for the last MLS match -- a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Chivas USA last Sunday.
Also sitting out to deal with various ailments were Dilly Duka, Steven Kinney, Mike Videira and Daniel Paladini. All are at least some-time starters.
Sean Johnson, who was with the U.S. National Team for its last two World Cup qualifiers, played 60 minutes in goal on Saturday but Joel Lindpere, who made two appearances for Estonia in World Cup qualifying during the same time period, didn’t see action after getting back in town on Friday night.
Coach Frank Klopas put out the best lineup he could at the start of the friendly, the most notable being Corben Bone as the left-side midfielder. He was in the starting 11 in place of Alex, the Brazilian midfielder who is dealing with a right ankle contusion suffered in the Chivas match. Bone has yet to see action this season.
Patrick Nyarko, seemingly a victim of rough play in every match, went down early and came off in favor of speedy rookie Yazeed Atouba. Otherwise Klopas kept his starters in for all of the first half and into the early stages of the second. That should have been enough time for them to at least score, but the best the Fire could do was Maicon Santos’ blast off the crossbar in the 17th minute.
Klopas eventually used 19 players, with only Wells Thompson, Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry going the full 90 minutes. Alec Kann, signed last week to be the No. 3 goalkeeper, saw his first action in the 60th minute and was in the nets when Miguel Ibarra scored the only goal of the match in the 71st minute.