The Chicago Fire were running against the wind both literally and figuratively Sunday.
Coming off two of the worst seasons in club history, this edition of the Chicago Fire is charged with changing course and restoring a winning culture. They had their first shot on Sunday and fell a little short. It takes time repair years' worth of damage and it certainly cannot happen in one game. The wind has been blowing in the wrong direction for some time in Chicago and the players will need to keep running against that to eventually change it.
The players got a literal sense of that challenge in the first half of Sunday's opener against New York City FC. While new coach Veljko Paunovic was attempting to enforce his play-out-of-the-back, high-pressure system, the wind was not having any of it. Aerial passes were sent backward, goalkeeper Matt Lampson could not find rhythm in his distribution and New York had just that little bit of a push moving forward.
It's no excuse, but it was an evident factor. It could be seen in the second half when New York, which also likes to play out of the back, struggled in the same way.
But unlike far too many times last season, this version of the Fire did not quit when things did not go their way; when the wind was unkind. They fell down 1-0 and made it 1-1. They fell down 3-1 and made it 3-2 and then again 4-2 and still made it 4-3.
I know results, at the end of the day, are all that matter. But coming off two of the worst seasons Fire supporters have ever seen, effort is important. On Sunday, the Fire kept running against the wind, and that's a start.
Player rankings will count down from XI to I with XI being the best. Subs often will not make the list, unless they are super duper awesome, in which case they might.
XI: Arturo Alvarez -- The Salvadoran had an excellent game and took on more playmaking responsibility in the absence of John Goossens. He made a sublime pass to Razvan Cocis for a goal and had another beautiful through-ball to Gilberto that should have led to another. It was a great first showing.
X: David Accam -- He made dangerous runs all game, coverted a penalty and assisted on Kennedy Igboananike goal. Unfortunately, he also shot directly into Josh Saunders too often. Accam said post game he knows he can finish some of those chances and if he keeps making runs like that, I have no doubt he will.
IX: Kennedy Igboananike -- On a day when players were struggling to finish, Igboananike converted his best look. That's enough for this spot. He had a few errant passes that killed potential breaks, but he was busy and helped make the 3-4-1-2 work in the second half.
VIII: Razvan Cocis -- He made a perfect run to get on the end of the Alvarez pass for the first goal. He quickly followed up with a chip attempt on Saunders that could've been two, but missed. I rarely worry about Cocis who is a steady presence much more often than not.
VII: Michael Harrington -- Chicago tough, am I right? The defense struggled, but I thought Harrington did well. His run to cover Tony Taylor in the box was good. Not really his fault Joao Meira kicked him in the head. Feel better.
VI: Matt Polster -- Polster sets an incredibly high bar for himself. I think he would be the first to say he didn't meet his standard Sunday. It's not that he was bad. In fact, he played very well in stretches. But when the team gives up four, that means Polster is likely not doing his sweep and destroy routine at his usual rate. If you really want to nit pick, some of Thomas McNamara's goal could be put on him.
V: Gilberto -- This ranking could probably be seen as harsh because of all the quality chances he created. That juke was amazing in the opening minutes of the game. But he missed every single chance. If you're going to be a DP striker, at least one, and probably more, need to go in. He apparently was nicked up a bit early on. Hopefully he can score soon to get the monkey off his back.
IV: Johan Kappelhof -- Obviously not a great game, but I still can see that great sliding tackling he pulled off on David Villa where he went straight at him and got all ball. Wonderful display of defending in an otherwise disjointed back line.
III: Brandon Vincent -- So Khiry Shelton is pretty fast, huh? Vincent had his hands full with Shelton all game and struggled to recover or keep up at times. That third goal was a bit of a bungle on Vincent and Matt Lampson, but sky is still the limit for the rookie who will only get better.
II: Matt Lampson -- He stopped David Villa twice. That was awesome. He actually had a handful of saves. But he was shaky on some catches and a little risky with the ball at his feet. The communication with the back line didn't seem to be there. He was a very stand-up guy about the performance after the game and I still expect him in net against Orlando despite some fan calls for Sean Johnson.
I: Joao Meira -- This is the spot you get when you dropkick a teammate in the head. I feel like I am always tough on the Portuguese, but I still haven't seen enough. It's all still very early. Better luck next game!
What They Said
New York City FC midfielder Thomas McNamara on carving up the Fire defense:
"I thought when we were able to switch the ball we were able to expose them a little bit and it gave us a bit of an advantage. I think that was when we were most dangerous."
Hot Take: This guy loves scoring on the Fire. I think he should have just said I knew I would be dangerous because I was playing Chicago. Don't act like you don't remember your debut with Chivas buddy.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic on Matt Lampson
"I think he worked for the team. He tried to perform the plan we prepared so we're happy."
Hot Take: Sounds like a man who believes in his player. I expect Lampson back in net Friday.
Fire midfielder/forward David Accam on the plethora of scoring chances
"On the attacking half, most of the guys did really well, we created a lot of chances. In another game, we would have finished with four or five goals. For me, I'm excited on what this team can do."
Hot Take: David is staying positive, I'm staying positive, let's all just try to stay positive after one game.