BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Matt Polster started to misspeak but caught himself. In discussing Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, the Chicago Fire midfielder initially called it a good way to start the season. It was, in fact, the team’s fourth game, but the first in two weeks after the international break.
Polster can be excused for the quick lapse, in part it has been a whirlwind two weeks for the 22-year-old (seeing him play 360 minutes over 15 days for club and country), but also because Saturday’s proceedings at Toyota Park seemed to be something of a fresh start or first step forward on many fronts.
“Obviously just from a personal side, to bounce back from the disappointment not making the Olympics and then coming here and getting a win, starting the season – starting this off strong is solid,” Polster told SBI. “I think for us today we did well with what was given, especially with the conditions we were playing in. I thought we did well as a team.”
The early international break, three weeks into the 2016 season, allowed the Fire, a team with so many new pieces, to reassess itself and the return saw the Fire win their first game of the season.
“I think it was good timing for it,” said defender Michael Harrington who assisted on the lone goal. “We got three games under our belt, like you said, get to sit back and assess what we did well, what we did not so well and really address that and really able to go and train hard and try to fix those things without having to worry about being tired for the weekend. So I think we had two really good weeks of training and I think it translated. I think it translated just in our confidence, our intelligence and the way that we played. I think it really attributed to us getting three points.”
The Fire benefitted from a 47th-minute red card to Union midfielder Warren Creavalle, and in the 51st minute, Kennedy Igboananike scored the game winner.
Midfielder Razvan Cocis, who returned to the lineup after missing the last game and captained the side, said getting the first win was important after two consecutive draws.
“You can feel a little bit of pressure before the game because we had two games at home until now this was the third one. We didn’t have a win yet,” Cocis said. “It gives us like a respite, like time to breathe I can say. We can come Monday or Tuesday when we’re going to meet and be more relaxed and focus on our next game which is a good thing mentally for the team.”
Harrington agreed that it was nice to put a win behind them before too long.
“Certainly, just gives you confidence,” Harrington said. “What are we, four games into the season now? Yeah, you want to get that win, get that out of the way, get that monkey off your back. Now we can just move forward and we’ve put ourselves in a good place in the standings here early in the season, we just want to keep that going.”
The Fire moved up into sixth in the Eastern Conference with five points from four games.
“There are things that we improved, like I know, for example, we have two clean sheets and we had the first win,” Cocis said. “It’s good that it’s better and we train every day to be better and to be the team that everybody wants us to be.”
The first win included another step forward for the Fire’s defense. After conceding four goals in their season opener, the Fire have given up just one goal in three subsequent games, keeping two consecutive shutouts.
“I think it’s getting better every week,” centerback Johan Kappelhof said. “We train hard, we communicate good. It’s getting better, we’re improving. We’re not there yet, but we’re working hard.”
With the defense solidifying, Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic talked about improving their ability to possess the ball. On Saturday, the Fire had 50.6 percent of the ball in the first half and, aided by the red-card to Creavalle, boosted that number up in the second half to finish with 53 percent of the possession overall.
“I think it’s a process, and I thought obviously the first game was crazy with the conditions as well but then we started to build,” Polster told SBI. “I thought we showed character against Orlando and then we put a good solid performance defensively against Columbus, and now I know the guys here were working on building out of the back and keeping possession for long stretches, and I think we did that well in portions of the game.”
It was also a first for Paunovic, who collected his first win of his MLS coaching career against the team he appeared for as an MLS player. He called it his most difficult match thus far as an MLS coach.
“It means a lot, for me and for this locker room who works very hard so far,” Paunovic said. “I think winning this game gave us more confidence now from now on and belief that we are on a good path, which we always knew that we were, but it’s always very, very important to have the proof and those proof are results, winning games.”