Fire averts disaster, settles for scoreless tie
It could have been worse.
It almost was. Had goalkeeper Jon Conway not taken the ball off Eric Hassli's feet on his 75th-minute breakaway, the Chicago Fire would have lost Saturday night at Toyota Park in front of a crowd generously announced at 11,680.
Instead, the team that couldn't shoot straight settled for a 0-0 draw against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps in a game it needed to win.
"I feel bad," Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "I feel bad because my players make a very big effort. We keep the ball, we keep the ball, we create so many options and we don't finish the game like we want to finish. But I told you every game, I have the responsibility of the team."
The defense, prone to the occasional lapse much of the season, was solid Saturday, earning its first shutout. The attack didn't produce great scoring chances, but it did produce good enough ones. The Fire (1-3-4, 7 points) just couldn't convert any of them and was shut out for the first time this season.
The Fire outshot Vancouver (1-4-4, 7 points) 12-4, but only 4 of those shots were on goal, and none truly tested Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.
"I have nothing to complain about my players," de los Cobos said. "They played very acceptable. This is the soccer. This is the soccer, guys."
Right midfielder Dominic Oduro had probably the best chance, but he got his feet tangled up, and his 32nd-minute shot soared high. Diego Chaves hit the post in the 44th minute, good enough to earn Man of the Match honors.
"We are missing very good chances to score," said de los Cobos, who this week added 20-year-old Colombian striker Cristian Nazarit to the roster. "When you score you strain the confidence of the guys and the players on the field. When you score you are changing what is happening at this moment on the field because the other team needs to attack, needs to open his lines."
The Fire held the majority of possession, often working the ball from side to side along the back line, looking for a way to attack Nolly's goal. Vancouver held firm, and the Fire lacked the creativity to make something happen.
De los Cobos came to Chicago promising to bring the beautiful game. Saturday's was downright painful at times, the frustration palpable. The coach's team is young, but he needs it to grow up fast.
De los Cobos has to hope Nazarit is the missing piece, that he can finish his chances and the defense can avoid more catastrophic mistakes.
"I know very good that the results are very important. But the way that you are getting the results to me is very important. I want to play football. For me it is very easy to put the ball forward with long balls, but I don't like it. I want to die with my idea, my philosophy to play," de los Cobos said. "It's frustrating to happen. I believe in myself, I believe in my players and I know that we need to keep working because we have young guys."