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Fire score late to tie Vancouver, but struggle to win at home continues

The Fire's CJ Sapong controls the ball against Vancouver’s Hwang Inbeom during Friday's game. | Courtesy of Chicago Fire Soccer Club

There are things happening with the Fire that don’t involve lease negotiations or their identity. One of them is their struggle to win at home.

Friday night’s game against Vancouver Whitecaps FC looked like a good chance for the Fire to pick up three points at SeatGeek Stadium. Vancouver entered the night winless and sitting 11th in the 12-team Western Conference.

But instead of getting a win, the Fire rallied for a 1-1 draw thanks to Nemanja Nikolic converting a penalty in the 84th minute. Through four games in Bridgeview, the Fire have just one win and needed late goals Friday and March 9 against Orlando City to even grab a draw against beatable teams.

Goalkeeper David Ousted, whose error at the edge of the 18-yard box directly led to Yordy Reyna’s go-ahead goal in the 53rd minute, didn’t think one win from four at home is enough.

“No. We’d like to see more. We’d like to see more points, but we’re still in the process here of building this team,” Ousted said. “I think, like a lot of the guys, I feel in here that we’ve got a team that going forward can be very strong. But we obviously need to put points on the board and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Because of a schedule heavy on early home games, it would figure that getting off to a decent start would be even more important for the Fire. Friday was their fourth home game of six to start the season, with another coming up next Saturday when they host the Colorado Rapids.

And it’s possible the squandered points could come back to hurt the Fire (1-2-3, 6 points), especially when their schedule tilts to the road. Yet on Friday, they seemed generally pleased with their play. With Nicolas Gaitan making his first start since joining the Fire, they held 60.1 percent of possession and took 23 shots.

“It was an important game for us. We wanted just three points,” Nikolic said. “Overall, if you see the whole game, I think we left two points (tonight) on the field, but on the other hand, we showed character.”

Coach Veljko Paunovic said he was “really proud” of his team because he liked how they responded to the Vancouver goal and kept pushing.

“With all that, I’m very very confident. I truly believe in my group,” Paunovic said. “I believe in all these guys, and I’m sure that very soon we’re going to come back on a winning streak, which is something that we are looking for. Our current form is still not where we want to be, but definitely I think we’re going to get there.”

The Fire might get there, but they’ve already missed some chances to do it at home.

“If we just keep playing this way, being smart and obviously minimizing or eradicating the defensive mistakes, we can be successful,” Paunovic said. “Right now, we are not happy where we are, but we are confident.”