After star midfielder Marco Pappa transferred to Heerenveen on Aug. 30, the pressure on the entire Chicago Fire attack became that much greater. So many times over the past few years it's been Pappa who's bailed a struggling Chicago offense out with an individual move or a long-range golazo.
Replacing him has been a group effort. And in Wednesday night's 2-1 win over Toronto, they added another face to that group.
It came when midfielder Alvaro Fernandez floated a header over the outstretched arm goalkeeper Milos Kocic in the 12th minute, officially giving Chicago another option - and removing a weight from his own shoulders.
“I can speak from my own experience that when you join a team, or you start a season, and you’re really struggling and trying to find that first goal, it gets harder and harder every game as it goes on,” Fernandez’s fellow attacker Chris Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com.
Pressing for his first goal in his fifth game with the Fire last week, Fernandez missed two point-blank chances in a 3-1 win over Houston. The Uruguayan expressed frustration after the game.
Chicago are also banking on strong play from forward Sherjill MacDonald, who has scored just one goal in seven games. MacDonald has been critical of himself for missing chances, and he didn’t do anything to help his mental state on Wednesday, failing to convert on a breakaway in the 41st minute before failing to convert a few more opportunities.
But Rolfe said the Dutch striker is valuable even when he’s not finding the back of the net.
“He’s just a presence up there that occupies one, sometimes two players up there,” Rolfe said. “He opens up spaces for other guys, and he does a good job of controlling the game for us.”
Rolfe knows how much a few goals can help a players’ confidence. The forward has scored four goals in his last five games, including a volley from the edge of the penalty box on Wednesday.
He knows at least part of that has to do with MacDonald.
“He and I complement each other pretty well,” Rolfe said. “Recently, it’s been a little bit more difficult as teams focus on our combination a little bit more. He definitely helps me going forward.”