Fire fall short in opening match of the Carolina Challenge Cup
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Dominic Oduro was looking for support from a higher power after 82 productive, but ultimately fruitless, minutes Saturday night. Anything to help him put the ball in the back of the net.
Quite understandably, Oduro came away from Chicago’s 1-0 defeat against D.C. United with mixed feelings.
On one hand, Chicago was certainly the more dangerous side, exploiting United’s often plodding back line with the explosive pace of Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. On the other hand, despite numerous opportunities, the Fire – and by extension Oduro – couldn’t produce the all-important end product: goals.
“It’s a little bit frustrating for me,” Oduro told MLSsoccer.com following the Fire’s opening match at the Carolina Challenge Cup. “As I said, I think I really need to pray right now because my shots aren’t going in. There were a couple shots we had that deflected off their defenders in the box. Again, it’s a work in progress. Stuff like that happens, it’s just how you deal with it.”
Time and time again – five times to be exact – Oduro found space behind United’s back line and managed to squeeze off a shot, but he simply could not find a way past United goalkeeper Joe Willis (pictured at right).
To make matters worse, when Oduro finally beat D.C.’s backup goalkeeper, his left-footed rocket hit the underside of the crossbar, ricocheted straight down off the line and spun out of immediate danger.
A little more than 15 minutes later, Hamdi Salihi converted his lone opportunity of the match, giving D.C. a victory fueled by the kind of ruthless finishing that the Fire found fleeting.
“I thought we played really, but at the end of the day it’s the goals that count,” Oduro said. “It’s just unfortunate that (my shot) hit the crossbar. I thought it went in, but apparently it hit the line and came out.”
Of course, Oduro certainly wasn't the only Fire player who struggled to beat Willis, and, in a way, Saturday night was a throwback to 2011 for Frank Klopas’ side.
Nobody tested opposing goalkeepers more last season than the Fire, whose 178 shots on target led the league by nearly 20 attempts. Unfortunately, though, that didn’t always equate to production in front of goal.
Including Oduro’s struggles to beat Willis, who had a standout game in Bill Hamid’s stead, it was more of the same on Saturday against United. Pavel Pardo had a penalty saved in the fourth minute and a well-struck free kick parried away as Willis dove low and to his right in both instances to make crucial stops.
Still, Klopas didn’t seem overly concerned with his team’s inability to finish their chances – it is still preseason after all – but even he acknowledged that eventually something has to give as the club prepares for the season opener on March 17 in Montreal against the Impact.
“We created chances. We had a PK that obviously we missed. That’s the game,” Klopas said. “The important thing is that we are creating chances… The focus is in the final third for sure. When you keep working and keep getting opportunities, they’ve got to go in.”