It didn’t take long for Fire forward Collins John to net his first MLS goal. John, who made his first-ever league start Saturday at the Colorado Rapids, found the back of the net in the 26th minute when he outmuscled a defender before coolly heading a Marco Pappa corner kick past Colorado ‘keeper Matt Pickens.
And while John’s goal wasn’t enough to give the Fire their first win of the year—they tied the Rapids 2-2—it was an encouraging sign for Chicago’s attack. The Fire’s offense was anemic in last week’s loss to New York, and Saturday’s two-goal performance in Colorado was certainly a positive change.
“The Rapids are a very good team and it is very difficult to win here,” Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. “I’m satisfied with the work of the players. I’m only happy when we win, but I’m satisfied.”
John, who was very active in his first MLS start, was a big reason for the Fire’s improved play in the attacking third. He put his speed, strength and finishing ability on display and—if his first two games are any indication—he’ll have a very solid debut season.
Despite the better play, the Fire attack has room for improvement. They capitalized on their chances on Saturday, but they need to create more opportunities. Neither of the Fire’s goals came from open play (forward Brian McBride converted a penalty kick for the Fire’s second goal) and—just like last week—the attack was slow out of the gate.
Defensively, the Fire looked average. Standout central defender Wilman Conde missed the game with a left foot contusion, but that is no excuse for the lack of pressure Colorado forward Omar Cummings faced in the 13th minute when he fired home the first goal of the match.
Cummings received the ball with his back to goal about 25 yards from net, took a heavy touch, turned, and ripped an excellent shot past Fire keeper Andrew Dykstra. Never in that sequence did any Fire defender make an effort to step up to the dangerous Jamaican striker. Needless to say, Cummings took full advantage of the time and space.
Like their teammates in the attack, the Fire defenders also came out of the gates a little bit slow. The Rapids had several near misses in the first half—midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Mehdi Ballouchy each put a long distance shot just wide of the post—and they could have easily finished the game with more than two goals. However, the backline clamped down in the second half, severely limiting Colorado’s chances.
“The first half they were pressing us and we were giving turnovers; we can’t give them that,” Patrick Nyarko said. “In the second half we started playing some long [balls] and it opened them up a little bit. We found that balance we needed.”
Defenders Krzysztof Krol and Kwame Watson-Siriboe joined John in making their first league starts Saturday. Both acquitted themselves nicely in their first MLS games. Krol looked quick and strong in defense and showed a proclivity to get up the left flank. Rookie center back Watson-Siriboe didn’t show any signs of jitters and handled Colorado’s dynamic forward duo of Cummings and Conor Casey well.
“Usually we tried to have myself go up for the head balls and have C.J. [Brown] get the knockdowns before they reach Omar [Cummings],” Watson-Siriboe said. “We play it positionally, we interchange, and we don’t do man marking.”
The Fire should be content with Saturday’s result. Their play was better than it was in New York and a tie isn’t a bad result at Colorado, where the Fire has always had trouble winning. However, it’s important that the Fire continues to build on their play through training this week, as anything less than a win in next week’s home opener against San Jose would be a big disappointment.