Short-handed Fire drop season opener

Short-handed Fire drop season opener
March 3, 2013, 8:45 pm
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Len Ziehm

The Fire enjoyed its most successful preseason, going 3-0-2 against Major League Soccer opponents. Those good vibes didn’t carry over into Saturday’s regular season opener, however.

Chicago-born Mike Magee scored three goals as the Los Angeles Galaxy, opening their bid for an unprecedented third straight MLS title, pounded the Fire 4-0 at the Home Depot Center.

"The team looked fatigued a little bit," admitted Fire coach Frank Klopas. "When you are tired, mentally you make mistakes. We gave up soft goals based on that."

In fairness, the Fire didn’t put its best team on the field. The hottest competition for the starting job in training camp was at right back, where Jalil Anibaba and Logan Pause waged a daily battle to stay in coach Frank Klopas’ first 11. Neither was at that spot in the opener, however.

Pause, nursing a quadriceps injury, didn’t even dress. Neither did Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender who has a hamstring injury. Both injuries came in training sessions last week. As a result, Anibaba moved to the middle to cover for Friedrich and Steve Kinney made his first start in two years on the right side.

If there was a highlight for the Fire, it was Kinney’s appearance on the same pitch where he had played his last MLS match in the 2010 season finale. Kinney suffered a serious Achilles injury in that match and his recovery from that and related injuries was a long one. During his long rehab period Kinney kept a good attitude and was named the club’s Humanitarian-of-the-Year in 2011.

"It’s been a long road for Steve, and I’m very happy for him," Klopas said before the match. "He did well with his chances to play in his rookie year, and it’s taken such a long time for him to get back. It shows a lot of character to see how he’s persevered through it all."

The Galaxy was without two stars from its last two championship teams. David Beckham is now playing in France and Landon Donovan is on an extended leave of absence. Still, the Fire was no match for no match for the reigning MLS champions. In fact, the Fire is winless in its last four matches vs. Los Angeles since a 3-2 win at Home Depot Center on Aug. 1, 2010.

Magee, playing in Donovan’s spot, was the story of Saturday’s match. He put shots from his left foot into the net in the 38th, 68th and 74th minutes before Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena took him off in the 81st.

"He scored three fantastic goals, all with his left foot, which is his off foot," said Fire forward Chris Rolfe. "What a great game for him."

Robbie Keane, who has taken over as Galaxy captain with Donovan absent, completed the scoring in the 80th minute. The Fire’s best scoring chance came off Jeff Larentowicz’s 20-yard free kick in the 60th minute, but Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini leaped high to punch the ball over the crossbar. Larentowicz was the captain’s armband in Pause’s absence.

Magee’s soccer career started in Chicago. He lived in South Barrington in his early teen-age years and played for the Chicago Sockers youth powerhouse. U.S. national team mainstay Michael Bradley, son of Bob Bradley – the Fire’s first head coach, was one of Magee’s teammates on the Sockers’ squad. Bob Bradley steered Magee toward the U.S. national team staffers, and he spent the last three years of high school in the U.S. youth residency program in Bradenton, FL.

He never played a high school game in Chicago, but Magee has had a long MLS career. He spend 2003-09 with New York and has been with the Galaxy since 2009.

In addition to bringing Kinney back into the lineup Klopas started four players who weren’t with the Fire in 2012. Maicon Santos was the long striker up top, Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere manned the center of the midfield and Dilly Duka was on the left side.

Yazid Atouba, the 20-year old Cameroon midfielder who was the Fire’s top pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft, made his MLS debut as Lindpere’s replacement in the 71st minute.

The Fire trained in Florida, California and South Carolina in the preseason and spent the last few days before the opener in Los Angeles while snow covered Chicago. After 32 days on the road the club will finally settle into its home city this week in preparation for Saturday’s Toyota Park debut against the New England Revolution..

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati will be the keynote speaker on Tuesday at the 15th Chicago Fire Foundation Season Kickoff luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel.