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C.J. Sapong saves Fire, delivers 1-1 draw in home opener

Dax McCarty controls the ball during Saturday's game. | Chicago Fire Soccer Club

Dax McCarty and the Fire were glad to take a point from their 1-1 draw with Orlando City on Saturday in their home opener at SeatGeek Stadium. But that doesn’t mean McCarty was celebrating the result.

For the second consecutive game, McCarty felt the Fire were better than their opponent. But unlike the season opener, in which they lost 2-1 at the L.A. Galaxy, the Fire grabbed a point on C.J. Sapong’s header in the 95th minute, the last minute of stoppage time.

“We know that the reasons for us dropping some points and getting these results is self-inflicted,” McCarty said. “We’re going to continue to work on the things that we lacked and take this as a positive. Get the first point of the season out of the way. Hopefully, the first win is coming next.”

After a first half in which the Fire controlled play but squandered their best chances, Orlando City took the lead in the 47th minute on Dom Dwyer’s goal, which was created by a miscommunication between Fire goalie David Ousted and defender Johan Kappelhof. Ousted and Kappelhof converged on a bouncing ball at the edge of the 18-yard box, but neither made a play for it, allowing Dwyer to tap it into an empty net.

On a generally miserable day, the Fire’s task was made harder in the 64th minute after left back Jorge Corrales was handed a straight red card for his challenge on Orlando City’s Ruan. But the Fire held on long enough to rally.

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“It was a relief,” Sapong said. “Just like the game in L.A., we felt like we left a little bit on the field there and could’ve found ourselves in front early. At least this time we came away with a point, but I think it’s something that we’re all going to go home with and try to see where we can do better and not find ourselves in those positions.”

Coach Veljko Paunovic was more effusive about the game than McCarty and Sapong.

“I’m not worried at all,” he said. “It’s the opposite. I’m very excited with what is coming for this group. Seeing what we saw today, it means that the guys have what they need to be a champion.”

Whether or not that’s true, McCarty wants the Fire to take something valuable from the winless start.

“When you get some negative results and you get some frustrating results — last week and this week I think we can classify as frustrating results — you have to learn from them and you have to make them fuel you to be better and to want more,” McCarty said. “The message is good. The message is clear. We are a good team, and the results are going to come as long as we do things right.”

NOTE: Przemysław Frankowski did not start after getting hurt in practice Friday. He came on as a substitute in the 68th minute and assisted on Sapong’s goal.