Was it a shot or pass? For Daniel Paladini, the only thing that mattered was that he was able to put it into the net.
The midfielder scored what ended up being the game-winner in the 19th minute as the Chicago Fire defeated the Houston Dynamo 3-1 in front of a crowd of 17,007 at Toyota Park. With the win, the Fire have now won four straight at home and moved into third place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings with 44 points; one more point that they collected in the entire 2011 season.
Paladini, who made his third consecutive start in place of injured captain Logan Pause, scored his second goal in as many games midway through the first half. After a sloppy Dynamo giveaway in their own end, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez found striker Sherjill MacDonald with space. The Dutchman then mishit his shot on goal, but the ball went right into Paladini's path as the midfielder charged into the box. Paladini had tons of room to one-time the ball past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall and extend the Fire's lead to 2-0 in the 19th minute.
"Midway through the run, I was like, I'm just going to go hopefully for a rebound," said Paladini after the game. "I thought he was going to hit it at the goalie and it was just going to pop out, but it came to me so quick (that) I kind of Chris Rolfe-ied it and put it in."
The 27-year-old Paladini, who joined the Fire from the Carolina Railhawks ahead of the 2011 season, said that with Pause returning from injury, he was happy to keep contributing to the club in whatever role he could.
"Whether it's coming off the bench or playing, we're a team and when guys are called upon, you have to be ready," said Paladini. "I have tons of respect for, (Logan) he's one of my best friends on the team and if they want to put him back in, he's been on the team for ten years, so there's a reason why he's here and I'm just here to do my role and if I'm called upon, I'm called upon."
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko put the Fire ahead in the first minute. Then after the Paladini goal, the Fire held a two-goal for a majority of the match. Striker Brian Ching then scored for the Dynamo in the 90th minute to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Fire substitute Alex put the game away in the 93rd minute with a beautiful golazo off the right post and in from about 25 yards out to ensure the Men in Red would walk away with the full three points.
Fire head coach Frank Klopas said the club has done a lot to control their own destiny as compared to in recent years past.
"Last year, it was a different situation where we were playing catch-up; right now I feel we're in a good spot and we're in (that) spot because we don't have to rely on other teams," said Klopas in his post-match press conference. "We (only) have to worry about ourselves."
- The Fire were back in action after an 11 day layoff. They lost 4-2 at DC United back on August 22, snapping a three-game winning streak.
- The Fire made one change from the DC United game, with midfielder Alvaro "Flaco" Fernandez taking the place of Marco Pappa, who was transferred to Dutch Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen this past Thursday. Fernandez had excellent opportunities to extend the Fire's lead in both halves, but was unable to convert in either instance.
- Captain Logan Pause was back on the bench for the first time since suffering rib fixtures and pneumothorax in the Fire's 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union back on August 12. The midfielder was expected to be out four to six weeks, but after an exceptional recovery, Pause rejoined his club in training this past week and was named to the 18-man squad. He came on for striker Chris Rolfe in the 85th minute of the match, but vice-captain Pavel Pardo retained the armband for the rest of the match.
After the match, Pause said he didn't think he'd be able to recover so quickly.
"The first week was a pretty big blur with a lot of pain, but each day after that it got better and better," said Pause. "If you would've asked me in the first week, I would've said that there's no possible way I'd be back in three weeks with just the pain that I was in."
- Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was named to the United States Men's National Team squad ahead of World Cup qualifying matches against Jamaica on September 7 and 11. After the match, he said he would be back in time for the TFC match.
After giving up four goals against DC, Johnson nearly had a howler early on tonight.
He bobbled Dynamo defender Andre Hainault's cross into the box in the 13th minute, and striker Macoumba Kandji was able to direct the ball into the net. However, the officials ruled that the ball came off of Kandji's hand and the goal was disallowed.
From that point forward, Johnson was solid and showed why USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann picked him as he made five saves, including a pair of saves late in the game before Bruin's late consolation goal.
Johnson has been able to come back from gaffes in the past. After giving up the goal that kept the USMNT out of the 2012 Olympics, Johnson came back to the Fire and is having arguably the best season of his career. After the DC game, Johnson said he was already moving on.
"I think you just try to get back to the things that got you to where you are," said Johnson after the win on Sunday night. "You can't let that affect you going forward."
- Forward Orr Barouch was called up to the Israeli U-21 team. According to the Fire website, Barouch was unavailable for tonight's match as well as the Santos Friendly and the TFC match.
According to Guillermo Rivera, Barouch was to be transferred to Israeli side Bnei Yehuda this week, but that deal has apparently fallen through. It was rumored that MLS nixed the deal after the foreign club wanted to make changes to the deal at the last moment, but that cannot be confirmed at this time.
- Sunday was the last of three matches this season between the Fire and Dynamo. They played to a 1-1 draw back on April 15 at Toyota Park in a weather-shortened match and then drew again, this time a 0-0 affair, on July 3 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
- The Fire are back in action next week to take on Mexican champions Santos Laguna next Saturday in an international friendly at Toyota Park. They return to MLS play on Wednesday, September 12 when they travel to BMO Field to take on Toronto FC.
- The Dynamo were coming off a 1-1 home draw with TFC in MLS play last Saturday and a 1-1 draw at Honduran side Olimpico in CONCACAF Champions League play on Thursday. Dominic Kinnear's side are next in action next Thursday when they host Real Salt Lake.
- Former Fire striker Calen Carr, who was traded for current Fire striker Dominic Oduro a week into the 2011 season, came on for Kandji in the 81st minute.
Starting XI: Johnson, Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Segares; Fernandez (A: '19), Paladini (G: '19), Pardo (C), Nyarko (G: ‘1, Sub: '77 for Oduro); Rolfe (Sub: '85 for Pause), MacDonald (A: '19, Sub: '55 for Alex)
Substitutes: Tornaghi, Gargan, Pause (Sub: '85 for Rolfe), Bone, Pineda, Alex (G: '90, Sub: '55 for MacDonald), Oduro (A: '90, Sub: '77 for Nyarko)
Starting XI: Hall; Hainault (Sub: '46 for Sarkodie, Boswell (Y: '79), Taylor (Sub: '63 for Taylor), Ashe; Garcia, Clark, Davis (C) (A: '90); Watson, Bruin, Kandji (Sub: '81 for Carr)
Substitutes: Deric, Sarkodie (Sub: '46 for Hainault), Camargo, Sturgis, Carr (Sub: '81 for Kandji), Ching (G: '90, Sub: '63 for Taylor), Weaver
Referee: David Gantar