By ANTHONY ZILIS
After a winless May, the Chicago Fire needed a win badly Saturday night opening June against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park.
Patrick Nyarko, Marco Pappa and Baggio Husidic helped make it happen, providing the creativity and goals in Chicago's 2-1 win at Toyota Park on Saturday night.
The win was a welcome one for the Fire, which hadn't tasted victory in 42 days.
Nyarko helped open the scoring in the 14th minute when, playing on the left side, he blew past Union defender Cristian Arrieta and was able to turn the corner.
“As soon as I took my first touch, I knew I had him beat, there was daylight in front of me. I tried to stay calm, not to rush anything,” Nyarko said.
In on goal, the Ghanaian midfielder slipped a pass to Baggio Husidic, who converted the chance.
“Brian (McBride) made a great run, taking that first defender away, and Baggio came right behind him,” Nyarko said. “I just slipped it in to him, and he got contact. All he needed was to get contact and because Seitz was at the near post, he got beaten.”
Nyarko, once again, was able to beat defenders at will, this time from the left side.
Taking his place on the right side was the left-footed Marco Pappa, who seemed to spend as much time in the middle of the field as on the wing.
Pappa and Husidic overlapped effectively all game, something Husidic said the midfielders have been working on in practice, which put Husidic on the wing at several points.
One such overlap came in the 75th minute, as Pappa sent a through ball to Husidic in the right corner. Husidic then sent a cross to Justin Mapp, whose shot to the upper corner was saved by Seitz.
Seitz wasn’t able to handle the ball, though, and an attempted clearance by Stefani Miglioranzi went straight to Pappa at the top of the box. The Guatemalan calmly placed the ball into the lower right corner, giving the Fire their two-goal cushion.
The Fire looked as if they had the victory locked up with a 2-0 lead heading into stoppage time, but just like in previous games, they didn’t make it easy on themselves in the 2-1 victory.
In the second minute of stoppage time, Union rookie Danny Mwanga controlled one of several late-game long balls from Chris Seitz, and passed it back to Sebastien Le Toux, who passed it right back to Mwanga. The first pick of the MLS SuperDraft shot to the right-lower corner and beat Andrew Dykstra.
Mwanga quickly grabbed the ball from the back of the net, and Philadelphia kept pressuring the Fire goal.
“Referee, blow the whistle, end it,” midfielder Justin Mapp said when asked what was going through his head after Mwanga’s third-straight stoppage time goal.
“Give them credit, they were fighting hard too. We were just ready to see the whistle blown and get out with three points .”
The whistle finally did blow on a game that finally saw the Fire capitalize on their chances – something that has eluded them in recent games.
Finally, for the first time in 42 days, the Fire were able to grab three points in their second-to-last game before the World Cup break.
“We needed points, simple as that pretty much,” Mapp said. “Pretty or ugly, we needed three points, so it was big for us.”
Collins John didn’t play for the second straight game because of sickness, leaving McBride as the lone forward once again.
John was in the locker room after the game and wouldn’t go any further into his ailment, only saying it was “scary.”
The Union players came out for lineup announcements in their warm-up tops, looking bizarre next to the Fire players, who were in uniforms.
Right before the national anthem, the Philadelphia players took off their tops, revealing bright orange Philadelphia Flyers shirts (the Flyers are currently playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup).
After the second Fire goal, “Chelsea Dagger,” the song the Blackhawks play after goals, blared from the loudspeakers.
Midfielder John Thorrington, who hasn’t played yet this season due to a quad injury, said he doesn’t expect to be back for the last game before the World Cup break on Wednesday against Colorado. He said he hopes to be back shortly after the break, but didn’t give a timetable.
Philadelphia head coach and Fire original Peter Nowak wasn’t happy with the amount of defense the Fire played on Saturday.
“The team that is supposed to play attractive soccer, attacking soccer at home played with 10 guys in the back, behind the ball,” Nowak said.
“I believe that in our league this kind of stuff is not supposed to happen. But it’s a good lesson for all of us. We have to work on breaking teams down who just rely on single individuals, or maybe on one lucky shot. I believe that we tried to open them up.
The Fire have played with only one forward for much of the season, and on defensive set pieces, McBride, who is strong in the air, would track back without any Fire player taking his place and going forward.
“I think we defended almost the entire game in their half,” Union defender Dan Califf said. “It’s hard to break down when they do a good job keeping every single player pretty much behind the ball.”