Chicago Fire earn point in 1-1 home opener draw
The Chicago Fire offered no clear answers in its home opener Saturday afternoon at newly renamed SeatGeek Stadium, but the team did see reason for optimism.
Maybe the Fire should have gotten more than a point visiting Orlando City SC. Or the Fire should celebrate its first point of the season after earning almost 60 percent of the possession.
Either way you look at it, the Fire (0-1-1, 1 point) earned a 1-1 draw despite playing the final 26 minutes with just 10 players.
New forward C.J. Sapong scored the equalizer, heading in a Przemyslaw Frankowski cross in the final minute of second-half extra time to earn the draw.
"I'm not worried at all," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "It's the opposite. I'm very excited for what's coming for this group. Seeing what we saw today, it means that the guys have what it needs to be a champion."
Orlando City grabbed a 1-0 lead just after halftime when Dom Dwyer took advantage of a miscommunication between central defender Johan Kappelhof and new goalkeeper David Ousted.
The situation went from bad to worse when Jorge Corrales picked up a red card in the 64th minute, hauling down Ruan from behind when Ruan appeared to be in on goal.
"Yeah, it was a relief," Sapong said. "I feel like just like the game in L.A. (a 2-1 loss in the season opener), we felt like we left a little bit on the field there and could have found ourselves in front early. At least this time we came away with a point, but I think it's something that we're all going to go home with and try to see where we can do better and not find ourselves in those positions."
Opening the season without a point against two teams that missed last year's playoffs would have been cause for concern.
"It was huge," Ousted added of Sapong's goal in the wind, cold and rain. "I think we played in tough conditions. In a tough game today I think we played well. ... I'm very glad we got something at the end to build from now."
The goal was Sapong's second of the season. It came on the final play of the game after striker Nemanja Nikolic struggled, missing on a couple of good scoring chances early.
But the mistakes the Fire made are all correctable, captain Dax McCarty said.
"If you look at the circumstances, especially toward the end of the game, it's a good point," McCarty added. "Showed good character, showed good fight. I was really proud of our mentality the last 20, 30 minutes.
"I thought it would've been pretty easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and with the bad weather and being down a man, conceding a tough goal, it could have been really easy for us to just put our heads down and sulk, but we kept going. We kept playing. Took some risks clearly at the back, which is what you have to do if you want to get back in the game. I think, for the most part, we got our just rewards at the end of the game."