Marco Pappa vs. Marco Pappa

Opening 2010

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Following seven weeks on the road and now with a full squad set, the club was scheduled to play a final preparation match on March 20 against Notre Dame at Toyota Park but….

It rained, it sleeted, it snowed.

March 20 was going to be the first time Fire supporters got to see the 2010 version of the team at home. It was also the first time I’d get to see the team play outside of training, but as it was still March and we’re in Illinois and not Malibu, the weather came and played a big factor in the game’s cancellation.

Fans were understandably disappointed, as was I, but in the end, the practice field where the game was to be held was a mess and playing the game just for the sake of playing it, risking injury in the process,  would not have been prudent.

It was still a busy day around Toyota Park as Major League Soccer and the Players Union had come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Though I didn’t mention it in yesterday’s article, the CBA hung over the heads of everyone involved with MLS throughout preseason.

There was always the underlying thought that a strike could occur, but to be perfectly fair, a lot of the maneuvering on both sides throughout the start of 2010 seemed more for show than anything else. All the posturing and positioning came to an end that Saturday as I sat and listened to a conference call with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the Players Union representative.

Labor peace achieved, it was time to go full steam ahead into the season…

Two days later the Fire surprisingly waived veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch and named second-year keeper Andrew Dykstra the starter for the season opener that Saturday at Red Bull New York.

Despite the switch, hopes among the players seemed high as they helped christen the newly-built Red Bull Arena on March 27. Things almost got off to a dream start when Brian McBride’s bicycle effort evaded keeper Bouna Coundoul, who was far off his line, bounced just in front of the goal and rattled off the post in the 23rd minute.

As the home crowd became more boisterous, Red Bull responded with their play, with new signing Joel Lindpere putting a rocketed half-volley past Dykstra in the 40th minute.

Looking to equalize, the Fire created a number of chances including Mike Banner’s free kick in the 62nd minute, but couldn’t beat Coundoul, falling 1-0 in the season opener.

Having picked up a foot injury in New York, starting center back Wilman Conde was unavailable for the next week’s match at Colorado and rookie defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe’s feet were put to the fire (horribly pun I know) as the club looked for their first points against the Rapids.

Collins John responded to Omar Cummings 13th minute go-ahead-goal, by heading home a Marco Pappa corner kick in the 26th minute to open his Fire account.

U.S. international Conor Casey pulled his side back ahead after Pappa brought down midfielder Colin Clarke in the 40th minute, but Patrick Nyarko earned the club a penalty of its own after being chopped down by Marvell Wynne just after the half. Brian McBride stepped up and placed his shot just out of reach of former Fire keeper Matt Pickens, equalizing and earning the club a 2-2 draw.

Returning to Toyota Park for the club’s home opener against San Jose, the Fire were billed as favorites despite their opening results. In an odd twist of fate, Jon Busch, who was waived by the Fire only three weeks earlier returned to Bridgeview as the Earthquakes backup keeper.

A sold-out crowd of 20,267, the largest Opening Night crowd in the stadium’s history, saw the Fire go down in the 49th minute when Arturo Alvarez chipped Dykstra. Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa responded with what could be the club’s Goal of the Year (stay tuned…) three minutes later, striking from outside the 18, but Quakes rookie Ike Opara proved to be the villain, heading home a cross from Bobby Convey to give San Jose their first win of the season and move the hosts to 0-2-1.

Luckily for the Men in Red their next opponent, D.C. United, had been woeful, surrendering nine goals in their first three matches. I remember this game well because I wasn’t in Chicago or in DC, but back home in Detroit at a friend’s “grown-up” party. When I say “grown-up” I mean there was red wine and cheese instead of beer and chips…

Still I sat on the couch alone, watching the April 17 game on MatchDay Live. I wouldn’t say the party goers were a snooty bunch but they did question what I was doing… Still I sat, screaming at my laptop as Collins John’s attempted chip was tipped over the bar by a recovering Troy Perkins.

As the game went on and chance after chance was wasted, you got the feeling the result might be another disappointment. Brian McBride’s entrance into the match in the 76th minute provided the needed spark as he laid off a pass to Pappa who buried a drive over Troy Perkins three minutes later.

As I celebrated, some of the party guests huddled around my laptop, joining me in watching the rest of the match.

McBride netted his second in the 89th minute when goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra’s long restart found the head of the retired American international who made no mistake in beating Perkins, cementing the team’s first win of the season. Credited with the assist on the goal, Dykstra also earned his first career MLS victory and shutout.

I think the result might have helped build the club’s fan base in Detroit, if only by a small margin…

The Fire “went Green” to promote environmental awareness as they hosted the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on April 24. Wearing their white strips with green socks and lettering, the side put on one of the most dominant performances of the season, downing Houston 2-0 behind goals from central midfielders Baggio Husidic and Peter Lowry.

Often described as “opportunistic”, Husidic rightfully proved his adjective by taking advantage of Tim Ward’s long effort which Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad parried. Husidic drove towards the net, heading home his effort deep into first half stoppage time. Lowry added the other midway through the second half, impressively chesting home Patrick Nyarko’s cross from the right.

Dykstra and his backline played well to preserve the second consecutive win and shutout and the Fire moved to 2-2-1 five matches in...

Stay tuned for Part Three of the 2010 Chicago Fire Season…

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.