This was one of those rare losses that could put a smile on the face of Fire coach Frank Klopas.
His team lost 3-2 to Mexican champion Club America at Toyota Park on Wednesday night in the lone international friendly of the season. The Fire doesn’t seem to like such matches, but should play more of them based on the scene in Bridgeview for the last one.
The first sellout crowd of the season – 20,042 – created a festive atmosphere and the spirited match was one of the most entertaining of the season even with both clubs playing makeshift lineups.
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Club America was without six players, all on national duty for Mexico in the Gold Cup tournament. The Fire didn’t use heavy-duty regulars Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Chris Rolfe or Jeff Larentowicz. There were some feel-good moments, though.
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, the Fire’s best-paid player and biggest disappointment, finally scored a goal. He did it in second half stoppage time – his first of the season across all competitions. MacDonald wants to play elsewhere to get more playing time, and he may get a new team soon, but there was only support for him on Wednesday.
"I was happy for him. Everyone on the team was," said Klopas. "He’s worked hard, and it’s good sometimes to get rewarded like that."
Victor Pineda, the homegrown player who has earned his place on the U.S. under-20 team despite enduring major injury issues, finally made his debut with the first team. That was nice, too.
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Club America, which won its first Mexican title since 2005 by beating Cruz Azul on penalty kicks in the league final last May, scored twice on penalty kicks. That was the difference in the match. The result extended the Fire’s winless streak in friendlies to 10 games, the last win coming against England’s Everton in 2008.
Overall, the Fire is 6-11-4 in such matches and 0-3-0 vs. Club America, the home team for Fire stars of the past Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Pavel Pardo during most of their professional careers.
"A great atmosphere, and an exciting game," said Klopas. "It was a fantastic game for the fans, a great effort by both teams, a great night for soccer."
But now it’s back to the real world. The Fire (6-8-3) returns to Major League Soccer action with a road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-5-5) on Sunday. It’ll be their only meeting of the season. Vancouver holds the fifth, and last, playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Whitecaps were a late entry into MLS, and the rivalry with the Fire stands at 1-1-1. The Vancouver win came on its home field in 2011, but this meeting will be different. The Whitecaps beat the Fire 4-2 at Empire Field but now play their home matches at BC Place, a downtown arena.
With Sean Johnson still away on Gold Cup duty with the U.S. team the Fire will again have Paolo Tornaghi in goal. Defender Gonzalo Segares and midfielder Daniel Paladini will also miss the match, Segares for an accumulation of yellow cards and Paladini for the red card he received in last Sunday’s home loss to Sporting Kansas City. Paladini played all 90 minutes and scored the other Fire goal in the Club America match.
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The Fire may also be without captain Logan Pause again. Still recovering from a back injury, he didn’t suit up for the Club America match.
Though the transfer window has opened, the Fire hasn’t done much to bolster its roster for the second half of the season yet. The only move so far has been the acquisition of Jamaican defender Shaun Francis, who played the second half against Club America as Segares’ relief at left back.
Francis’ addition is only to provide depth in the back. He’s experienced in MLS, with time spent with the Columbus Crew, but was with the minor league Charlotte Eagles when the Fire picked him up. A central defender, Yamith Cuesta, was in training with the Fire this week. He spent time with the team in the past and is getting another look.