So far, so good.
The Fire got through the second leg of a three games in eight nights stretch on Saturday, taking a road match against the Columbus Crew 2-1. It ran the Fire’s unbeaten streak to seven match across all competitions but the rapidly improving club is still a lackluster 5-7-3 in Major League Soccer play.
This win was special because it reflected the depth on the roster. Coach Frank Klopas, looking ahead to Wednesday night’s quarterfinal match against minor league Orlando City FC in the summer-long Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition, juggled his starting 11.
Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause and Joel Lindpere – all on the bench at the start of Wednesday’s 2-1 home win over the Colorado Rapids – were starters against the Crew. Paladini played all 90 minutes while Jeff Larentowicz provided backup for Pause and Patrick Nyarko for Lindpere. Maicon Santos, left off the game roster against the Rapids, gave Chris Rolfe relief in the 59th minute.
"Our changes helped a lot," said Klopas. "We needed to rest guys who weren’t 100 percent….The team is the most important thing."
That became even more significant on Sunday when Arne Friedrich, the veteran defender, announced his retirement. The announcement wasn’t a surprise, since Friedrich hadn’t played in a match this season. He suffered hamstring and hip problems in preseason training. After extensive treatment both in Chicago and Germany, he decided to give up on his plan to play one more season. The Fire had counted heavily on him in the offseason. Now, though, his departure is another reason why the Fire has to get maximum effort from its entire roster.
That certainly has been provided this week but, interestingly, striker Mike Magee -- pulled in the second half of the Colorado match because of tightness in his back -- played the entire game against Columbus. He also scored the game-winning goal and ran his goal streak since coming to the Fire in a trade with Los Angeles to six matches.
Six goals in six matches is extraordinary, and it moved Magee into a three-way tie with Marco DiVaio of Montreal and Jack McInerney of Philadelphia in MLS’ Golden Boot standings. Still, Magee avoided discussion about his streak, fearing such talk might bring him bad luck.
"Don’t jinx me," he laughed. "I can’t comment on numbers of goals right now."
Dilly Duka could, though. The left side midfielder got his first one since coming to the Fire in an offseason trade that resulted in Dominic Oduro going to the Crew.
"I needed my first goal in a Chicago jersey," said Duka. "I’ve been getting good shots off in past games, and I’ve just been a little unlucky."
Duka, improving with each match, has only three goals in his MLS career. The tally against Columbus came in the 52nd minute and tied the match, Lindpere and Magee assisting. Two minutes later Lindpere set up Magee’s game-winner.
On the negative side, the Fire once again gave up the first goal and had to play catchup. Oduro drew a foul from Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the penalty area only seven minutes into the match. Crew captain Federico Higuain converted on the penalty kick, but Columbus still was a loser to the Fire for the third time this season. Johnson (eight saves) was a big reason for that. The Fire is 15-5-7 all-time against the Crew in regular season play.
A more intriguing stat points out Klopas’ career as the Fire’s head coach. He is 7-11-5 in matches played from March through May but 23-12-14 in those from June through October. Why the disparity? Who knows?
Victory in Wednesday’s Open Cup match would put the Fire in the tourney’s semifinals for the ninth time in its 16 seasons. The Fire has won the Cup four times, the last in 2006.
Orlando City, a member of the United Soccer League’s Pro division, may be a minor league club but it won’t be an easy opponent. Hoping to eventually land admission to MLS, Orlando City beat two teams from the big league – Colorado 3-1 in the third round and Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in the fourth – to earn a shot at the Fire. SKC was the defending Open Cup champion.
A win over Orlando City would give the Fire still another home match in the competition. It would come on Aug. 7 against the winner of the New England-D.C. United quarterfinal.