Frank Klopas

Victory in New Orleans

After monsoon like conditions swept through New Orleans, 6,243 fans came out to see the Chicago Fire down Honduran side Real Espana 3-1 Saturday night at Tad Gormley Stadium.

“I thought we played well,” head coach Frank Klopas told post-game. “We had very good moments, we had some very good execution and I was happy to see our forwards finish some of the opportunities we had. “

The rain had a definite effect on the early moments of the game, with both teams having some trouble finding rhythm on the moist turf. Spurred by the home-away-from-home support given by the Louisiana Fire Juniors and the traveling contingent from Section 8 Chicago, the Fire eventually took control of the match against an Espana side that was already five games into their Liga Nacional campaign.

Striker Dominic Oduro took his preseason goal tally to three with two strikes in the first half. Just two minutes after putting a decent chance wide of goal, the Ghanaian striker made amends when midfielder Sebastian Grazzini supplied him into the box with a perfect through ball, which he easily slotted underneath onrushing Espana keeper Kevin Hernandez in the 26th minute.

Despite the Fire’s dominance of much of the first half, the Honduran side pulled level in the 38th minute when Jairo Puerto, who provided most of the danger for Espana in the first frame swung in a free kick from the right, finding an open Edder Delgado at the back post. The midfielder sent a pinpoint header over goalkeeper Jay Nolly and into the back of the net.

In the 41st minute, midfielder Sebastian Grazzini began favoring his right ankle and was pulled out of the match as a precautionary measure. The injury wasn’t deemed serious and is expected to be ready for the team’s trip to Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday.

Oduro used his speed to restore the lead just before the half when trialing defender Ivan Guerrero found Patrick Nyarko with a ball over the top. Nyarko ran onto it and appeared to be fouled, but Oduro continued his countryman’s effort up the left. The fleet-footed striker sped into the box alone before rounding Hernandez and tucking the ball away in the 44th minute.

“We see that Dominic hasn’t lost a step in the offseason,” head coach Frank Klopas told post-game. “But I do think his two goals also come down to the work of the whole team. It’s great when a player gets chances that he puts the ball in the net because it gives them confidence. Oduro’s been great, he’s a very good player, he’s connecting well with Federico Puppo and I think that partnership’s going to get better.”

Oduro continued to give Espana fits when he was hauled down in the box by David Roura just two minutes later forcing referee Jasen Anno to point to the spot. Deep into first half stoppage time Puppo stepped up but placed his effort over the goal before the whistle.

Klopas deployed an almost entirely different XI in the second half and while the team produced chances, a third goal didn’t come until the 88th minute. Midfielder Michael Videira chipped winger Victor Pineda through Espana’s offside trap, putting the Homegrown player in with Orr Barouch. Pineda unselfishly slid the ball across the box where the Israeli youth international coolly finished to close out the scoring.

“It was very important to continue to build, not only on the fitness level but on the soccer part,” continued Klopas. “We knew it was going to be a difficult match because we were playing a team that’s five games into their season and we just started our preseason so it was very important that both teams we put out were organized defensively, were good with set pieces and obviously good with the ball – making smart decisions, moving the ball quickly.”

With the win, the team was awarded the first annual Louisiana Fire Champions Cup and celebrated the victory with the Section 8 Chicago supporters in attendance post-game.

The team heads back to Chicago Sunday and will be off until Phase Two of preseason begins Wednesday, February 8 in Ventura, Calif. The team will face three MLS sides while in California: Chivas USA (February 11), the Portland Timbers (February 15) and will return on February 18 following their match against the San Jose Earthquakes.