PORTLAND, Ore. – It may have been a lost opportunity, but the Chicago Fire are choosing to look at it with a bit more optimism.
Bottom line: Frank Yallop’s young team came a little more than 10 minutes away from doing something only two teams have managed since Caleb Porter became the head coach of the Portland Timbers. And that’s get a win in the Rose City.
So conceding a late goal, forcing Chicago to settle for a 1-1 draw Sunday afternoon at Providence Park, isn’t all that bad considering the context. Throw in the fact that the Fire went down to 10 men after Patrick Nyarko saw his second yellow of the match, and Yallop is just glad it wasn’t any worse.
“Well, good to get a point, our first point this season,” the new Fire boss said in his postgame comments. “I thought we played very well in the first half; could have maybe been two-up, but that’s football. You’ve got to take your chances. But, in the end, with what happened in the match, getting the red card and under a lot of pressure at the end, I think we did well to hold onto the point.”
What’s more, there were some positive signs to build on after Yallop juggled his starting lineup to give youngsters Benji Joya and Harrison Shipp their first regular-season starts. Matt Watson, acquired in an offseason trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps, also saw his first action with the Fire in a start at midfield.
Shipp, a rookie out Notre Dame signed to a Homegrown deal this offseason, played a full 90 at right midfield and got off a shot, while Joya, the US youth international acquired in a weighted lottery this offseason, played 67 minutes as a left winger and registered two shots.
They were part of an attack that gave the Timbers fits early in the game, led by attackers Alex and Quincy Amarikwa. It was Amarikwa who got behind the Timbers' defense to draw a foul in the 19th minute, leading to Jeff Larentowicz’s penalty-kick goal that put the Fire on top 1-0.
“Maybe could have punished them a bit better in the first half, but still our game plan worked,” Yallop said. “I thought we nullified a lot of the play, especially the first 60 minutes. Again, it was a good performance by us and I’m proud of the guys and proud of the way they handled themselves today.”
The high-pressure Timbers did win the possession battle with 64 percent of the ball and they outshot the Fire 21-14. It was a rebound goal by Portland’s Argentine forward Gaston Fernandez in the 79th minute, following a Darlington Nagbe blast that Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson couldn’t handle that led to the draw.
But after a season-opening loss last weekend at Chivas USA and with the Fire headed home for their opener at Toyota Park next weekend against the New York Red Bulls, it was clearly a point well taken for the Fire.
“I think we just need to clean up on small things,” Watson said. “You can see the fight is there. … We’ve got some great guys. Amarikwa was fighting for every ball. When you see that, it just inspires you to play and get behind him and push up. If we clean up on the small things we’ll be great.”