At some point in the second half Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Chicago Fire changed. For a while the Men in Red looked like impostors, inept and lackluster.
Then the Fire became worldbeaters, the renewed and inspired team expected following the trades late last month for Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare. The result was a 2-2 draw with Portland after defeat looked all but inevitable.
Finally, a draw that feels like a win.
"It is disappointing to get down in that hole," midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said of the Timbers' 2-0 second-half lead. "We were fortunate to not go down early. But when those balls don't go in and you have the opportunity to turn the game around and we do that, then it's great. It's fantastic the way the team turns around like that. A lot of guys had inspired performances tonight, and it's a draw, but it's a draw we can build off of."
The eighth-place Fire (3-7-3, 12 points) looked disorganized from the start, allowing the red-hot Timbers (5-1-8, 23 points) to bang shots off the crossbar twice in the first minute, then off the left post in the fourth minute. It was fitting then that when Portland finally scored, on a Diego Valeri shot in the 33rd, the ball went in off the woodwork.
The Fire refused to panic. There was no yelling in the locker room at halftime, no finger-pointing.
"No, not at all, not at all," Soumare said. "Frank was very positive. Everyone was calm. Everyone knew we would find a way."
Still, Portland took a 2-goal lead in the 58th minute on Ben Zemanski's 25-yard blast.
The Fire's first goal came off a Portland mistake in the 68th minute. Alex sent a through ball toward Mike Magee into the Portland penalty area. When goalkeeper Milos Kocic fumbled the ball, Magee was there to slot the ball into the open net.
"We raised the intensity, we stepped up the pressure," Larentowicz said. "We were clearly down in the game and there was nothing more we could do to get further down. We continued to press higher up the field and if they could turn the ball over they could possess less."
The hope is that the addition of Magee and Soumare can save the Fire's season, help the team win enough points over the next month to keep it close to a playoff spot. Then the club can add some star power when the secondary transfer window opens July 9, giving it a boost into the top five of the Eastern Conference.
"It's fantastic," Klopas said, "The two moves that we made, you can see the difference on the field already. We're not that far off. But I do feel we need to add a couple of more pieces."
Saturday, one of those pieces was found on the bench. Second-half substitute Daniel Paladini scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute on a 26-yard free kick.
"I'm proud of the group, with the effort and the character and they showed the second half to come back and left it all on the field," Klopas said.