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Nicolas Gaitan debuts; Fire earn first victory of season

The Fire's Nemaja Nikolic competes with the Red Bulls' Tim Parker during Saturday's game. | Courtesy of Chicago Fire Soccer Club

If the Fire get anything from the 2019 season, their 1-0 victory Saturday against the Red Bulls might be remembered as an important moment.

The Fire went ahead on an own-goal by Tim Parker in the 48th minute, and their defense held up. Despite having possession only 35.7 percent of the time, the Fire (1-2-1, four points) had almost all of the scoring chances in the game and allowed only one shot on target.

‘‘It was a hard game for us, and we learned that we are capable of playing games like this,’’ coach Veljko Paunovic said. ‘‘It was very important for us to get the win . . . and to build our confidence, to build the spirit of our group and the cohesion.’’

The Fire also got their first glimpse of midfielder Nicolas Gaitan. Two days after arriving in Chicago, Gaitan made his debut with the team when he took the place of Aleksandar Katai in the 63rd minute. Seeing his first game action in four months, Gaitan left an impression.

‘‘He didn’t play 90 minutes, but even in the limited minutes he had, he showed what he’s capable of doing,’’ midfielder Mo Adams said. ‘‘He’s very fun to play with and fun to watch, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.’’

The Fire wouldn’t mind seeing more team performances such as the one Saturday. They avoided a winless March, in which three of their four games were at home, and the victory didn’t come after a flurry of goals.

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After allowing seven goals in their first three games, the Fire earned their first shutout. That’s something Adams relished.

‘‘A shutout and a win — that’s all you can ask for, especially because we didn’t get a shutout until now,’’ said Adams, who was recalled from a loan to United Soccer League. ‘‘We’ve kind of been conceding quite a few goals, so I think for us to kind of put a stop to that and show we’re capable of keeping the back line tight and making it difficult for them and being tough to break down, I think that was key for the victory today.’’

A surprising inclusion on the back line was Jeremiah Gutjahr. Known more as a midfielder, Gutjahr made his MLS debut and started at left back, earning praise from Paunovic for his intelligence and ability to adapt to an unfamiliar position.

‘‘That tells you there is huge potential there and talent,’’ Paunovic said.

What happened Saturday clearly left a mark on Gutjahr.

‘‘Unbelievable experience, just being able to play in front of the fans with this group of guys,’’ Gutjahr said. ‘‘Hard to put into words. Just a joy that you can feel it, but it’s hard to say what it means. It was just fantastic to get the three points with this group of guys.’’