Castillo's debut long on drama, short on minutes

Mexican star still seeking match fitness, comfort in Fire lineup

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Nery Castillo made the kind of entrance saved for heroes on Sunday night at Toyota Park, but the Fire’s prized new Designated Player never quite managed to save the day in his MLS debut.

Castillo logged 34 minutes off the bench in the Fire’s scoreless draw, an expectedly short stint for a player still seeking match fitness. He’s more than a month removed from real action and still far from acclimated to a Fire lineup very much in motion, but it didn’t seem to matter to a Toyota Park crowd that waited breathlessly for his first steps on the field.

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Castillo was greeted with a standing ovation and fireworks when he came on in the 56th minute, after Fire fans serenaded him in anticipation as he warmed up along the end line.

“I was happy to see how many people showed up to support the team, and to hear them chant my name was very special,” said Castillo, who played up top in place of Brian McBride. “Their support means a lot to me; my respect to them.”

Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said following the match that he expects Castillo to be available for a full 90 minutes for Wednesday’s road test at the New England Revolution.

[inline_node:315411]“I did get a bit tired because you come into the game and try to catch up to the rhythm at which it’s been played, and it is hard,” Castillo said. “But it was important for me to be on the field tonight and start getting used to my teammates, not just in training but in competitive situations.”

Said McBride: “I think he’s getting there, he’s getting acclimated. You’re starting to see him become more and more comfortable, and you can really see he has that offensive flair that can fit here. It’s exciting to see what he can do for us.”

Still, it’s unclear how exactly Castillo will fit into the team’s stable of strikers. McBride earned the start while Collins John failed to see time Sunday, and the Fire seem content to use new DP Freddie Ljungberg in an attacking central role some expected Castillo to fill behind McBride up top.

“Nery gave a very good effort, as did Freddie," de los Cobos said. "They just need to work on their chemistry. It will take time to work them into the system, but I’m confident that it’s going to happen.”

Castillo had sparkles of flair in his debut, but he failed to generate any real scoring chances for a Fire team that was relatively toothless offensively. The hosts managed just one shot on goal to New York’s seven, and rarely threatened Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.

“It’s important to play with Nery, that’s what we’ve talked about,” Ljungberg said. “There’s no point in kicking the ball long with two short guys up front. We need to play the ball up through the back, and when we played it out, I think we played really well. At times, I think we played really, really well.”