BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Like the Saturday before in D.C. this past weekend’s 2-2 draw with Philadelphia was a roller coaster of emotions for any Fire fan watching.
As they had each of the previous three games, the team struck first blood -- a positive sign that there is no lack of motivation coming out of the locker room to start a match. For the second straight week though, the Fire conceded two goals, both of which came off broken set pieces and which forced the need for another late comeback.
While the opportunity for the team to take all three points was there with Mike Magee’s stoppage time penalty kick, Fire defenders lamented the set piece opportunities they gave up once again on Saturday.
“Personally I feel bad especially for the goals on set pieces,” center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado said this week. “These are the plays that decide games. We need to be aware, be smart and attentive on those plays.”
Hurtado unintentionally helped setup the Union equalizer in the 32nd minute when Vincent Nogueira’s blast from outside the box caught his chest and laid dead for Maurice Edu, who had pulled away from his marker Bakary Soumare, to slot it past Sean Johnson.
Philadelphia’s second goal came off a Nogueira free kick from the right which evaded both Conor Casey, the dive of Amobi Okugo and every Fire defender to tuck inside the far corner in the 39th minute.
The two goals were the Union’s only two shots on target, compared to the Fire’s seven in the match.
“If we’re speaking clearly, they had two shots and they scored two goals,” said Hurtado. “We had more shots on goal but the same result as them. Defensively we did a good job cutting down the shots but we still give up the goals. It's the most obvious thing we need to work on."
Asked what specifically the team needed to work on in regard to better set piece defending, Fire head coach Frank Yallop said, “Get to the ball first. We’ve worked on it in practice, we’ve talked about it, we’ve shown them video. It’s not just the defenders, it’s everyone involved.
“If they’re sending six guys up, we have six defenders back. We as a unit have to do a better job of handling set pieces, not giving silly fouls away in bad areas, which we did twice on Saturday. Having said that, we need to be able to defend [set pieces] as well.”
Hurtado’s fellow backline teammate Lovel Palmer returned from his controversial two-game suspension which occurred following the team’s 1-1 draw in Portland back on March 16. The layoff forced the Jamaican international to miss the team’s home opener vs. New York a week later, making Saturday’s game his first runout as a Fire player at Toyota Park.
“I was very excited for the team, myself and playing for our fans for the first time,” Palmer said. “I was telling Baky Soumare in the 80th minute I really felt like we were going to equalize just because of the energy you could feel coming from the fans and the noise from Section 8.”
That goal came in the form of Juan Luis Anangono’s looping 86th minute header and while Palmer recognized the missed opportunity of three points late, he remained adamant about the importance of fighting back once again.
“Whether I’ve been on the pitch or having to watch from the stands, it says a lot. Those points will add up, we missed the playoffs by one point last season. The fighting spirit of this team is awesome, every single time I play with this team I’ve seen improvement and I’m excited about what’s to come.”