After four months off, the Chicago Fire came back strong in their opener of the MLS is Back Tournament, beating the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders 2-1 with the help of several new, key faces.
New striker Robert Berić bagged the opener for Chicago in the 52nd minute, picking up the ball around the center circle, shaking off Seattle defender Xavier Arreaga, beating a second Seattle defender with a Cruyff turn near the 18 yard box, and slotting it home with his left foot past Stefan Frei.
After Seattle equalized in the 77th minute from a Handwalla Bwana goal, Fire Homegrown Defender Mauricio Pineda scored the winner in the 84th minute off an assist from Gastón Giménez, giving the Fire three points in the match, putting them in control of Group B.
Fire Head Coach Raphael Wicky, who picked up his first MLS win, had cited Pineda as one of the team’s strongest players heading into the tournament.
“I felt good,” Pineda said on scoring the winner. “I think everyone was looking forward to this game. We were all really anxious to start playing games again and I think everyone worked really hard today. We all really wanted a good result today to start the tournament off and just for the league points, and I think we are all happy to do that and just happy for all the guys that they all worked so hard and you could see that on the feed. I think it all paid off and we came away with three points.”
Because of a late schedule switch after FC Dallas and Nashville SC dropped out of the tournament, the Fire were the next-to-last team to play their first match of the tournament. Seattle, on just three days’ rest, was the first team to play their second match.
Defender Francisco Calvo captained the team yet again, wearing a Black Lives Matter armband for the match. The team operated out of a 3-5-2 formation.
“I’m obviously very, very happy with the team spirit, with the fighting spirit the team put on the field,” Wicky said after the match. “It’s tough for everyone. It’s our first game since four months, and so I wanted to see a team who works together, fights together. We saw that.”
Next up, the Fire take on the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, July 19 at 7 p.m. CT (FS1, TUDN, TUDN 1200AM). The Fire are hosting a “Drive-In Matchday” at Soldier Field that night, where fans can watch the match for free from their cars on the Waldron Parking Deck.
Chicago’s Starting XI: GK Kronholm, D Frankowski, D Sekulić, D Pineda, D Calvo (c) (Omsberg 75’) D Bornstein (Navarro HT), M Gimenez, M Medran (Stojanović 75’), M Herbers (Mihailović 68’) F Berić, (Collier 90+1’), F Sapong
Subs not used: Sparrow, G. Slonina, N. Slonina, Reynolds II, Bronico, Casas, Aliseda