"Where we're going, you don't need defense" -- said by every player on the Fire and New York City FC right before Sunday's game, probably.
The Chicago Fire and New York City FC put on an entertaining, up and down match that resulted in a 4-3 victory for New York Sunday at Toyota Park. Chicago dropped three points at home, had all-too-frequent defensive breakdowns and missed a handful of great chances. In other words, it seemed like 2015 a bit.
But there is no reason to abandon all hope after only game. There were some things that seemed different. Most importantly, new coach Veljko Paunovic was quick to try new things. After Gilberto struggled to finish great chances in the first, he was benched to start the second and Jonathan Campbell was brought in to change the shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. It took only four minutes for the new pairing up to of Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam to connect for a goal.
The team, despite falling down 3-1 and 4-2, showed a fight and desire to win that was sorely lacking especially near the end of last season.
Still, there are no moral victories in MLS and this was a game the Fire should have won had they converted their chances, especially the first-half looks, more often.
Chicago started the game with a great breakaway that went from Matt Polster to Igboananike to Gilberto, who performed an unholy juke to free himself of his marker in the box. Gilberto couldn't find the finishing touch and what could have been 1-0 Fire two minutes in ended in nothing.
That was the story of the first half and proved too much to overcome for the Fire to turn around the game. Gilberto missed from point blank. David Accam missed from point blank. Even Razvan Cocis couldn't finish a on-on-none chip over New York keeper Josh Saunders despite having scored a brilliant goal just minutes before.
The complete lack of finishing was a frequent thorn in the side for the Fire during the entire first half.
While the likes of Accam and Gilberto struggled to find the net, New York's Thomas McNamara was bending in 20-yard beauties. It was McNamara who opened the scoring in the 10th minute after finding a soft cushion in the middle of the field about 20 yards out. A couple touches and beautiful curving shot later, McNamara was celebrating the first MLS goal of the year.
But the Fire kept creating chances and it indeed looked like the game was far from over. Arturo Alvarez played a looping ball toward the top of the box. While New York defenders kept an eye on an offside Gilberto, Cocis made the perfect run up the middle, gathered the ball for a one-on-one with Saunders and easily slid it past him in the 19th minute.
Cocis followed his goal up with the failed chip attempt and it looked like the Fire would keep pressuring. But then Tony Taylor put New York ahead 2-1 in the 29th minute after a Michael Harrington/Joao Meira miscue straight out of 2015.
Harrington tried to cover Taylor's run into the box as Andrea Pirlo played a quick chip in, but Meira also closed in and ended up kicking Harrington and leaving Taylor wide open to clean up the mess.
Khiry Shelton added a third goal seven minutes later when blew past Brandon Vincent and Matt Lampson got caught in a tough spot. Shelton beat Lampson far post. The Fire continued to pressure the rest of the half, with both Gilberto and Accam shooting directly into Saunders, but nothing came of it and the team faced a 3-1 deficit.
At the end of the first half, the Fire had six shots on target and 10 attempts from inside the box. One goal was just not enough output for the chances they created.
The Fire looked energized in the second half, coming out in the 3-5-2. Accam found space on the left side and before reaching the endline, played a pass back to Igboananike at the top of the box who beat Saunders high.
While the Fire put on heavy pressure after closing in 3-2, it would be New York to strike next thanks to another defensive breakdown. As goal scorer McNamara ran down the endline toward goal, he lobbed a pass to Mix Diskerud who was standing all alone on the right corner of the box where Brandon Vincent and/or Meira should have covered.
Again, the Fire showed some fight, trying to push for goals. Ironically, on a day when a handful of Fire players took a tumble in the box to no avail, a handball by New York setup an Accam penalty, which he converted at the 72nd minute.
The 4-3 score would ultimately hold.
Objectively speaking, it is pretty fun watching a 4-3 game. But it was another tough loss to start a season and put a damper on some of the good vibes built up during the preseason.
Be sure to check back for post game interviews and analysis.