Playing shorthanded has become a fact of life for the Fire these days. They made it work Saturday.
No David Accam, Shaun Maloney or Jeff Larentowicz because of injury? Unfortunate. No Joevin Jones after he was called up to play for Trinidad & Tobago in the Gold Cup? Part of trying to bring in good players.
Without those four, the Fire beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Jason Johnson’s goal two minutes into second-half stoppage time. After outplaying a shorthanded Seattle team without Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins – among others – the Fire got a late goal to turn their control of the match into three points and halt their winless streak at five.
“Although late, a much-needed goal and very good for us to get the three points at home looking forward to, obviously, our home stretch we’ve got coming up, “ Fire coach Frank Yallop said. “So, I’m very pleased.”
For once, Yallop and the Fire (5-9-3, 18 points) had reason to be.
As the season reaches its halfway point, the Fire again find themselves outside of the playoffs. Rumblings about Yallop’s job status and bigger questions concerning the club have gotten louder, and for most of the night it looked like the announced crowd of 18,528 would leave Toyota Park more frustrated.
But after a pass from fellow substitute Michael Stephens, Johnson beat Seattle goalkeeper Troy Perkins to complete a successful counter-attack and one of the Fire’s better performances of the season.
“I just had one thing on my mind,” Johnson said. “To shoot.”
Finishes like Johnson’s were pretty much all that was missing for the Fire. They had 16 shots to Seattle’s nine, and forced the Sounders to absorb their pressure.
Even without four of their key pieces, it was the kind of night the Fire envisioned, albeit one that’s been too rare so far.
“I’ve been pleased with the spirit of the squad,” Yallop said. “We’ve been through some rough patches, if you like, in the last few weeks.”
There were other positives.
Patrick Nyarko, who underwent surgery last November to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, made his first start since Oct. 10. Homegrown player Patrick Doody also made his first start, playing at left back.
Nyarko was replaced in the 65th minute by Johnson, while Guly do Prado took Mike Magee’s spot in the 70th. And it turned out that Johnson sub gave the Fire what they wanted.
“Tonight was a very important three points,” Yallop said.
NOTES: The Fire will be without central defender Adailton on Wednesday against Columbus after he got an 84th minute yellow card for his challenge on Gonzalo Pineda. Adailton will be suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards.
– Saturday was the debut of Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Spanish-language telecast. The Spanish simulcast was shown on CSN-Plus and is the first of three this month.