Fire still scoreless, pick up point

Fire still scoreless, pick up point
March 17, 2013, 12:15 am
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Len Ziehm

The Fire has gone three games into the season without scoring a goal but, at least, the club isn’t saddled with its first ever 0-3 start.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Sporting Kansas City earned the Fire its first standings point of the season, and the overall performance reflected improvement on a team still without its two most experienced players. Arne Friedrich (hamstring) and Logan Pause (quadriceps) again weren’t available.
"We needed some positive momentum to build on something," said Fire coach Frank Klopas. "Knowing that we were coming to play against a very good team in a really tough environment gave us that momentum."
Three weeks into the season, the Fire is the only team in Major League Soccer that hasn’t scored a goal. The Seattle Sounders, blanked in their opener, tied Portland 1-1 on Saturday in their second match to leave the Fire alone on the empty side.
The drought mandated a check of the record books. Going three matches without scoring isn’t even a club record, though that standard for futility could be matched if the Fire comes up empty on Sunday in a home match against Chivas USA.
The Fire went four in a row without scoring for the first time in April of 2004. That was a strange development, given that the Fire had scored six times in its two previous matches to open that season under coach Dave Sarachan.
Carlos de los Cobos, in his first – and only full – season as head coach, was in charge when the Fire endured its other four-game goal-less streak in 2010. That came in a September stretch that included three 1-0 losses.
At least there was something to feel good about in Saturday’s draw, which came against a strong SKC team playing its home opener before a full house at Sporting Park. SKC (1-1-1) was the best team in the Eastern Conference in 2012 and had a 19-5-10 record at Sporting Park going into the match.
"Playing Kansas City is always a difficult game," said Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who again wore the captain’s armband in Pause’s absence. "We absorbed a lot of pressure and kept a clean sheet on the road, which is great."
SKC has been tough in home openers, going 12-2-4 in such matches. One of those losses (3-0 in 1999) and two of the draws came against the Fire. On Saturday, SKC controlled the ball 73 percent of the time and got off 20 shots but couldn’t get one in against a patched up Fire defense that helped goalkeeper Sean Johnson earn his 16th career shutout. Klopas used his third and fourth players at right back this season.
Steven Kinney started the first two matches, then sat Saturday with a hamstring injury. Michael Videira and Wells Thompson, both seeing their first action of the season, divided time at that spot. Thompson came on in the 83rd minute when Videira was shaken up in a collision with teammate Jalil Anibaba, the starter on the right side for most of 2012. Anibaba, who has played his old position only briefly this campaign, has filled in for Friedrich in the middle most of the time in the first three matches.
In addition to starting Videira, Klopas gave Daniel Paladini his first game time of the season in the midfield as a replacement for Estonian international Joel Lindpere and stuck with Sherjill MacDonald for most of the game up top, though the Dutch striker and designated player still needs to improve his fitness. He didn’t start the opening 4-0 loss at Los Angeles and was pulled at halftime in the 1-0 home loss to New England. MacDonald performed better at SKC, though Klopas brought in Maicon Santos in the 67th minute.
"Our guys left everything on the field," summed up Klopas. "For us it was a positive."
For SKC, not so much. That club had a 13-game unbeaten streak in MLS dating back to last July 28 prior to losing on the road to Toronto FC – the league’s worst team in 2012 – in Week 2 of the season. SKC couldn’t bounce back from that stunning defeat against the Fire in what MLS billed as Rivalry Week.
Each match was supposed to bring together clubs that are traditionally competitive with each other. Fire-SKC, over the years, didn’t fit that bill. The Fire owns a 23-11-10 edge in the series dating back to 1998. A more fitting Rivalry Week opponent for the Fire would be the Columbus Crew, which was – for some reason – paired with San Jose on Rivalry Week (a 1-1 draw).