The Chicago Fire made a splash in their debut match at the 2011 Carolina Challenge Cup Saturday night, taking a 1-0 victory against Toronto FC even after captain Logan Pause was sent off for a controversial tackle in the 36th minute.
Things got started early on when Uruguayan Gaston Puerari penetrated into the box on the right, sending a ball across the box to draftee Davis Paul. The Cal product cut the ball back for Marco Pappa whose powered effort took a deflection before beating Reds keeper Stefan Frei in the sixth minute of play. It was the Guatemalan international's third goal in four preseason matches.
The Fire continued to apply pressure against a Toronto side with only 15 signed players, with a lot of work coming down the left side in combinations between Pappa and Paul but things changed on a dime in the 36th minute when Pause went in late on Toronto midfielder Oscar Cardon in the middle of the park. The referee immediately showed the nine-year Fire veteran a straight red card, leaving the Fire to play with 10 men the rest of the way.
In response, Carlos de los Cobos made an immediate change, bringing in new Croatian signing Marko Maric for Puerari, leaving fellow Uruguayan striker Diego Chaves alone up top. It was an unfortunate circumstance for the Fire’s Mexican manager who has still yet to see the expected starting strikers together for a collective 90 minutes.
“I think the two played well for the time they had on the field tonight,” said de los Cobos. “They had a few good combinations with each other but they need to play together more. Gaston is getting his rhythm, every day he’s better and Diego too. I think the two will help us have a successful season.”
The Fire made it to halftime with a 1-0 lead but given the disadvantage, it was mostly one-way traffic for Toronto FC, who dominated possession in the second half but could only muster one effort on goal, a 79th minute strike from Maicon Santos.
De los Cobos’ side did well to hang on to the 1-0 advantage, earning three points and boosting morale.
“Victories always strengthen your confidence – in the players, in each other, in the way we’re playing because we’re playing a different way than before in the 3-5-2,” he said. “We can show its not necessarily the system but the most important thing is that the players are understanding what I want from them collectively. Winning under the circumstances we were in is good and helps grow our confidence.”
Next up for the Fire is a Wednesday date with DC United, who used goals from Chris Pontius and Joseph Ngwenya to beat hosts Charleston Battery 2-1 in the tournament’s second match Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4pm CT and the match can be viewed LIVE via Chicago-Fire.com.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.