Season-openers can almost always be counted on to be unpredictable and a little outside the norm. Saturday’s curtain-raiser was certainly that for the Chicago Fire, who came all the way back from a 2-0 second-half deficit to claim a 3-2 advantage, only to leave empty-handed as visiting Sporting KC erased a deficit of its own late on to win 4-3.
Here are some news and notes to take away from the Fire’s opening match of 2018:
- Reigning MLS Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic wasted no time beginning his pursuit of another league scoring title, bagging a second-half brace with his typically clean and opportunistic finishing close to goal. Nikolic now has 26 goals in his short MLS tenure (35 games), tying him with Petr Nowak (114 games) and Marco Pappa (112 games) for fifth in club history.
- Going back to last season, Nikolic now has scored eight goals in his last five MLS regular season matches and 10 in his last eight.
- Aleksandar Katai delivered the first goal of the Fire’s season in his inaugural appearance, becoming the 13th Fire player ever to score in his MLS regular-season debut with the club. The assist on the play came from the 12th Fire player to have turned the trick, as Bastian Schweinsteiger single-handedly crafted a chance with his meg of Jimmy Medranda and perfectly lofted ball to an oncoming Katai.
- Fullbacks Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster picked up the assists on Nikolic’s 82nd-minute go-ahead goal, recording the ninth and 10th assists of their careers, respectively.
- Five Fire players made their MLS regular season debuts for the club: starters Tony Tchani and Aleksandar Katai and substitutes Elliot Collier, Kevin Ellis and Jorge Corrales. Goalkeeper Richard Sanchez made his first appearance at Toyota Park after starting two matches (at San Jose, at Houston) on the road last season.
- The three goals scored by the Fire marked the most surrendered by Sporting KC in a regular season match since October 1, 2016 vs. New England.
- Sporting KC has now won four of the last five meetings in the Fire-SKC series.
- This was the second time in three years in which the Fire fell by a 4-3 scoreline in their home-opener, having also hosted a seven-goal affair vs. NYCFC in 2016, Veljko Paunovic's first game at the helm of the Fire.
- After posting a 6-3-2 record vs. Western Conference opponents in 2017, the Fire dropped their first cross-conference match of 2018 but will play two more to close the month of March. The Fire make their first-ever trip to Minnesota next Saturday (March 17) before hosting the Portland Timbers at Toyota Park on Saturday, March 31.
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic had this to say in summary of his team's performance following the seven-goal affair:
"We did tactical adjustments [in the second half] with two forwards and we pushed a little bit more, we pressed more. We exposed some other positions but we had to go for the game and I think with two strikers we had more passes in attack and obviously a lot of opportunities in the second half that helped us to have that [turnaround]. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep our defense in the second half again. We couldn't keep consistent with defending well so that's something we got to work on. That's something that was the main thing. We worked on it in preseason but I think we have to improve. Our defense, four goals, first game, four goals last game, last year. It's still the same so we have to improve."