BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - For the Chicago Fire to fight their way back into a playoff spot, they'll need all of their players to step up. On Saturday night, it was the new guy and a familiar face who helped the club come back and steal a point.
Second half goals from Mike Magee and Daniel Paladini helped the Men in Red battle back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw with a strong Portland Timbers side in front of 15,349 fans at Toyota Park. The Fire have now taken points from their last three league games, but are still ten points behind Sporting Kansas City for the fifth and final spot in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
But perhaps for the Fire right now, it's about making progress and developing more resilience and the ability to fight back.
The comeback started in the 68th minute with a bit of luck. On a fairly routine ball forward into the box, Timbers goalkeeper Milos Kocic was unable to cleanly collect the ball after a mix-up with defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. From there, the Chicago native Magee was able to pick up the spill and put the ball into an open net to cut the deficit. It was Magee's third goal in three games in all competitions since joining the Fire and it gave them some hope.
And they weren't done yet.
Following a foul on Magee in the 81st minute just outside the box, Daniel Paladini took the resulting free kick and fired home a beautiful goal just inside the post to bring the Men in Red on level terms. The goal for Paladini, who had only just entered the match in the 71st minute, was his second of the season.
"I wanted to take it. He (Paladini) called it at first and he said, 'no I got it,'" said Magee after the game. "He said 'it's from my spot' and if a guy says that, you've got to give it to him."
And from there, it was Paladini's time to shine.
"When I walked up to it, that's the spot I usually practice the most," Paladini said. "(Kocic) looked down to his left and I was already going, all I had to do was hit it right."
This one didn't start out well for the Fire though. The Timbers hit the post three times in the first four minutes before the game settled down a bit. But it was the away side who would strike first midway through the first half.
Off a Frederic Piquionne flick, striker Diego Valeri found some space on the left side of the box and was able to maneuver his way around the Fire defenders enough to create his own shot. His beautiful 33rd minute effort hit the left spot and trickled in past a diving Sean Johnson to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
Things went from bad to worse early in the second half. It was Piquionne as the provider again in the 58th minute when he found midfielder Ben Zemanski at the top of the 18. His low shot into the right corner made it 2-0 to Portland.
But just like they did at Real Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago, the Fire battled back and played some of their best soccer of the season. And according to head coach Frank Klopas, this was a different kind of comeback.
"In Salt Lake (City), we got one off a set piece," said Klopas in his post-match news conference. "That's still a part of the game, but this one, the run of play, we played some good soccer, our movement off the ball was good and there was a huge belief in the team. You felt it, the momentum being at home with the crowd, but our ability to create a lot of chances in the final third was very positive."
But while the team fought back, winger Patrick Nyarko says the team needs to stop putting themselves in these difficult situations.
"As the game wore on, tactically we got it right, but it has to be from the start," said Nyarko. "If we do play (well) from the start, we'll be winning this game, not tying."
And Magee, the newest member of the club, said that he hoped the momentum from this game could have a lasting effect. He was incredibly vocal throughout the match and said he was willing to do whatever it might take to inspire himself and his teammates.
"I'm just yelling, just trying to show emotion and light a fire under whoever is looking," he said. "I thought everyone was just fighting and battling. Something like this can turn your season around."
The Men in Red made zero changes from the side that defeated DC United 2-0 last week. They were again without their captain in midfielder Logan Pause. He strained his groin in the club's US Open Cup match against the Charlotte Eagles back on May 29. He also missed the DC United match.
This meant the club once again had to call upon offseason acquisition Jeff Larentowicz to be the leader in central midfield. He started and made it until the 71st minute when he was substituted for the eventual goalscorer Daniel Paladini. After the substitution, Mike Magee took the captain's armband for the first time since joining the club.
The Fire came into the match on a bit of a high for quite possibly the first time this season. Unbeaten in their last three and picking up victories in their last two matches in all competitions; this had been the best stretch so far of what has started as a miserable 2013 campaign. This uptick in form was surely due in part to the recent acquisitions of defender Bakary Soumare from the Philadelphia Union and the attacker Magee from the LA Galaxy.
The Fire continue their home stand on Wednesday when they play host to rivals Columbus Crew in the fourth round of the Open Cup. Their next MLS match is a week after that on Wednesday, June 19th when the Colorado Rapids come to town.
Since going winless during the first month of the season, the Portland Timbers have been one of the hottest clubs in the league and have now gone unbeaten in their last 12 matches. They'll next host the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL on Wednesday in the fourth round of the Open Cup. Their next MLS match is next Saturday when they host FC Dallas.
Starting XI: GK Sean Johnson; RB Jalil Anibaba, CB Austin Berry, CB Bakary Soumare, LB Gonzalo Segares; RM Patrick Nyarko, CDM Jeff Larentowicz (C)(Sub: '71 for Paladini), CAM Alex, RW Dilly Duka (Sub: '71 for MacDonald); FWD Chris Rolfe (Sub: '64 for Santos), FW Mike Magee (Y: '60, G: '68))
Substitutes: GK Paolo Tornaghi, DEF/MID Michael Videira, DEF Hunter Jumper, MID Daniel Paladini (Sub: '71 for Larentowicz, G: '82), MID Logan Pause, FWD Sherjill MacDonald (Sub: '71 for Duka), FWD Maicon Santos (Sub: '64 for Rolfe)
Starting XI: GK Milos Kocic, RB Jack Jewsbury, CB Andrew Jean-Baptiste, CB Pa Madou Kah, LB Michael Harrington, MID Diego Chara (Y: '45), MID Will Johnson (C), MID Ben Zemanski (G: '58), FWD Diego Valeri (G: '33, Sub: '67 for Zizzo), FWD Frederic Piquionne (A: '33, '58, Sub: '88 for Valencia), FWD Darlington Nagbe
Substitutes: GK Jake Gleeson, DEF Rauwshan McKenzie, DEF Miller, MID Kalif Alhassan, MID Michael Nanchoff, FWD Sal Zizzo (Sub: '67 for Valeri), Jose Valencia (Sub: 88 for Piquionne)
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez