Chicago Fire falls to Galaxy in front of record crowd

 
 
Updated 4/14/2018 8:38 PM
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  • Chicago Fire defender Jonathan Campbell (16) defends against Los Angeles Galaxy forward Ola Kamara (11) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium on Saturday.

    Chicago Fire defender Jonathan Campbell (16) defends against Los Angeles Galaxy forward Ola Kamara (11) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium on Saturday. Courtesy of USA Today Sports

  • Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) kicks the ball away from Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium on Saturday.

    Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) kicks the ball away from Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium on Saturday. Courtesy of USA Today Sports

The circus came to Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon, but it isn't a regular occurrence.

A crowd announced at 21,915 fans, the largest to see a Chicago Fire game in Bridgeview since the stadium opened in 2006, saw the home team lose 1-0 to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Ibrahimovic had the game's lone goal, an unstoppable header off an Ashley Cole cross in first-half extra time. Two Galaxy goals in the first half were disallowed for offside. Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez came up with two big saves on the 6-foot-5 Ibrahimovic, saving 4 shots total.

"I feel I should have scored another two goals because I miss great chances which I normally should not miss," Ibrahimovic said. " ... It was not an easy game, especially with the weather. I mean, we come with the sun, they come with the wind. But the sun was the stronger today."

For the Fire, however, this is about more than one loss. This is about a lost opportunity. This is about missing a chance to show fans and a media contingent far larger than normal why they should return to Toyota Park no matter the opponent.

"I heard they never fill the stadium," Ibrahimovic said, "so I should come (more) often."

And therein lies the rub for the Fire. Ibrahimovic isn't coming back to Chicago this season and probably won't next season. The Fire will have to find a way to attract crowds on its own, without help from one of the best and best-known players on the planet.

The fans who braved a brutal April day -- cold, windy, rainy, just miserable -- did so for the chance to see greatness in Ibrahimovic's first MLS road game since arriving from Manchester United a few weeks ago.

"It was a great atmosphere," said Fire captain Dax McCarty. "The fans were loud. It was nice to see the stadium that full. Let's try to do that more often."

The thing is, this Fire roster isn't built to draw more fans. Despite players like McCarty and German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger and 2017 MLS scoring leader Nemanja Nikolic, the Fire's roster is a step backward this season in terms of talent.

The Fire's 1-3-1 start is no fluke. It accurately reflects the talent level of this roster, ninth place in the Eastern Conference despite having played just one road game so far.

Help is needed, a topic McCarty will leave to coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager/president Nelson Rodriguez. But McCarty was brutally honest about how the Fire can convince fans and media types to return to Toyota Park.

"You've got to win games," McCarty said. "You've got to play better and you've got to score goals and you've got to entertain them. You have to be a team that's easy to root for. Right now we're struggling a little bit."

The Fire tried to score Saturday. Unlike last week's 1-0 victory against Columbus, the Fire came out of its defensive shell and tried to attack.

"The team is growing," Paunovic said. "The team is getting better. We have more game now."

It wasn't enough against the Galaxy. Once again the Fire couldn't protect its home field.

"I don't blame them," McCarty added about the fans reluctance to attend games without Ibrahimovic. "If you don't win games maybe you don't deserve to play in front of a packed stadium. It's on us to improve and get better and try to fill this place up more."

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