First the good news.
Backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi had one of his best games in goal for the Fire in Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Houston. Mike Magee scored his 13th goal, tying him with Vancouver’s Camilo Sanvezzo for the lead in Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot standings and Ecuadoran striker Juan Luis Anangono is a few days closer to showing what he can do for his new team.
The return of starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson is also imminent. He’s been with the U.S. national team the entire month of July for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, which will end with Sunday’s championship match at Soldier Field. The Fire hung tough while he was gone, but still missed him. Tornaghi got better as his playing time increased and Saturday’s draw against the Dynamo underscored that.
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Magee said that coming from behind to salvage a draw and one standings point was "huge ... especially in Houston, which is close to impossible to get any points in. And the fashion we did it, it’s just we’re hard to beat. No matter what happens, this was a big step for us."
Coach Frank Klopas echoed those sentiments.
"On the road we showed a lot of character," he said. "You’re playing against a very good team in a difficult place.’"
No question both Magee and Klopas are right.
Now for the bad news. It’s all in the standings.
The Fire remains in a precarious position as far as returning to the playoffs go. Five teams from Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference make the playoffs. The Fire is seventh and another road game against a team ranked higher in the standings is on tap for next Saturday.
The fourth-place Philadelphia Union, the Fire’s next opponent, has 34 points in 22 matches. The fifth-place New England Revolution has 30 in 21. Houston also has 30, but in 20 matches, and the seventh-place Fire has 25 in 20 matches with only 14 left to make up the point shortage.
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As for Saturday’s match, the Fire (7-9-4) fell behind in the 61st minute when Cam Weaver scored for the Dynamo (8-6-6). Magee tied it two minutes later, converting from inside the six-yard box off Patrick Nyarko’s cross from the right side.
Other than failing to earn the much-needed three points the Fire lost Alex, the Brazilian midfielder who left early with an ankle injury. His availability for the Philadelphia match, along with that of midfielder Dilly Duka, will be determined as the week progresses. Duka sat out the Houston match with a groin injury.
Johnson should be back, but he only played one match for the U.S. in the Gold Cup and could be rusty competition-wise. He looked good in his one start, a win over Costa Rica in the last game of pool play, however. Anangono’s debut is also a possibility. He must clear visa issues before he can take the pitch, but he did train with the Fire all last week.