BRIDGEVIEW - Struggling to find the back of the net through the first four fixtures of the 2013 MLS season, the Chicago Fire put three past the visiting New York Red Bulls to earn the team's first win of the season with a 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon.
A first half equalizer from Daniel Paladini and a second half brace from Maicon Santos helped give the Fire (1-3-1, 4 points) their first win of the season after falling behind in the 17th minute following a Jamison Olave volley.
"The group is united. There's a belief in the group," said head coach Frank Klopas. "It was important for us today to not only play well, but to get the win. I give my team a lot of credit. We have a long way to go, but the effort, the attitude, the work goes in every day. So more than anything, I feel great about them."
Olave's goal came from a New York corner kept alive by Tim Cahill. The Australian headed Juninho's cross on to Brandon Barklage, whose flick found Olave at the 6 yard box. With his back to goal, the Colombian volleyed past Sean Johnson to give New York (1-3-2, 5 points) the lead.
Eight minutes later, it seemed things were getting worse for the Fire. Chris Rolfe hit a penalty wide left in the 25th minute after sending Luis Robles the wrong way.
The team's scoring woes would end there, however, thanks in large part to the play of Paladini.
Paladini made the most of a lofted cross from Hunter Jumper - making his first MLS start - in the 44th minute, anticipating his run to meet the ball before Robles.
"I made a run, but [Jumper] played a perfect ball" Paladini said of his header. "The wind caught it, so I knew I was going to get there before the goalie."
Paladini earned MOTM honors for his goal and assist, setting up Santos' winner. According to the midfielder, the win is a morale boost for the Fire.
"We all believe in ourselves, the coaches believe in us," he said. "We had a meeting this past week, it was a positive meeting, and things have changed for the better. We have a good team. We might not have the New York superstars, but we have a solid team."
One of those "New York superstars" is Thierry Henry, who entered the match in the 61st minute. Just 7 minutes later, the Frenchman had Johnson beat, but his effort clanged off the far post.
"When you see that, one of if not the best player in the league, that's a bit of wake-up call," Paladini said of Henry's shot.
Santos entered the match in the 63rd minute, replacing Sherjill MacDonald. It would take some time for Santos to find his feet, but once he did, he scored twice in a six-minute span to earn the three points.
The first came in the 83rd minute from a Paladini throughball, and the second came in the 89th minute when Jeff Larentowicz headed across the face of goal.
"Everyone knows when you enter in the second half, you have to deal with players who are already warm," Santos said. "It was a nice assist [from Paladini]. I think everyone expects me to [shoot] the ball. I cut in and scored.
"We practice that every day in training," Santos said of the second. "The long ball across, run to the second post and the other guy hits across. That's basic for us."
Next up for the Fire is a trip to Houston on April 14. Currently sitting in third in the East, the Dynamo (3-2-0, 9 points) present a tough match-up for the Fire. But with injured players expected back next week, the Fire might have some competition for spots.
"It's not for me to decide," Santos said when asked if he thinks he deserves a start. "I'm just going to keep doing my work and make the most of my time whenever they [come]."
Similar thoughts were echoed by Paladini.
"It is what it is," he said. "One week Patrick [Nyarko] is out, someone comes in. When Patrick comes in, it's not like it's our spot. It's competitive, it's our job."
The Fire were without Patrick Nyarko, Gonzalo Segares, Dilly Duka, Alex and Arne Friedrich. Segares, a late scratch, said he expects to be back next week, while Klopas hinted that Friedrich was getting close to fitness.
Logan Pause made his first appearance of the season, playing the full 90 after missing out through injury.
The Fire outshot New York 13-10, with 4 of those being on target. The Red Bulls won the possession battle 52-48 percent.
CAUTIONS: Austin Berry (16th minute); Markus Holgersson (51st minute) and Peguy Luyindula (66th minute)