Joey Calistri

Paunovic, Fire looking ahead to next opportunity after last-minute loss in Vancouver

There were no doubt positives to come out of it -- a fourth goal in eight games for Kennedy Igboananike, an active first start for Joey Calistri and a typically buzzing performance by halftime substitute Matt Polster, to name a few -- but in the end the Chicago Fire were left without a result in a 2-1 loss at Vancouver Wednesday night.

Blas Pérez, the 35-year-old Panamanian striker acquired via trade by the Whitecaps in February, came off the bench for the injured Masato Kudo and scored the 37th and 38th goals of his MLS career, capped by a stunning 89th-minute bicycle kick that gave the home side all three points.

WATCH: Match Highlights

“I believe we had a very good second half and that we were close to getting a win on the road,” said head coach Veljko Paunovic. “We will keep fighting, keep working and keep the faith. In three days we have another game, so we have to prepare and recover for that opportunity. I think the guys are very committed and they have the teamwork to succeed, but we have to keep fighting and believing.”

The Fire (1-3-4, 7 points) played the match without the services of Brazilian striker Gilberto, instead inserting the Homegrown Calistri for his first career start at the MLS level.

“Gilberto had issues last week after the game against D.C. United,” Paunovic said of his striker, who managed a slight hamstring issue in recent training sessions. “He got better and he was in full training the last couple of days, but yesterday before training he said that he’s not ready to start. He was on the bench, but we decided to use other players tonight. I believe he’ll be fine for the next game, but we have to check on his status when we arrive in New England.”

Calistri featured in both of Chicago’s most promising first-half scoring opportunities and provided an assist on Igboananike's breakthrough in the 62nd minute, when the Nigerian took on his defender and beat Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted with a powerful left-footed shot to the near post.

Despite Vancouver’s 60-40 advantage in possession, Chicago stood poised to earn a point from the first leg of a daunting three-match road trip, but Pérez had other ideas. The 6-foot-1 striker perfectly executed his bicycle kick attempt from eight yards out to send the 19,000-plus fans at BC Place home happy.

“It’s always disappointing to lose, it doesn’t matter when, but it’s more disappointing to lose in the last minutes,” said Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis. “We came back in the game which was a good thing and I think we could have scored more but it happened that they scored the second one. We’re not happy with this.”

Now, the Fire board a transcontinental flight to New England, where they’re awaited by a Revolution side that is similarly desperate for points, especially on its home turf. Chicago is due to receive reinforcements in Boston in the form of David Accam and Khaly Thiam to help in their quest to begin a climb up the table before the June break for Copa America Centenario.

“I thought the second half we were very good and that’s something that we need to draw on and bring into our next game and the rest of the season,” said goalkeeper Matt Lampson. “Obviously you want to build off of it with a result, a point on the road against Vancouver, they’re a great team, and it would have been fantastic but unfortunately we dropped points so we’re going to have to learn from a loss. But nonetheless, we’re progressing and getting better with each game and it’s going to be fun to be a part of.”

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