Oh yeah, the Fire had a game Wednesday night.
With all the talk of Soldier Field and leases and potential new names, the Fire returned home for the first time after a three-game road swing. It was obvious the match against the New England Revolution was the secondary story around the franchise, which has moved closer to exiting Bridgeview and hasn’t ruled out changing its name.
“My reaction to all of that is go step on the field and win the game. That’s what we did today,” coach Veljko Paunovic said of the Fire’s 5-0 victory. “I think the club had a statement about that, and we are all happy about it, but what we have to do is keep going and we have games like this that we needed to play and perform in this day when actually everyone was focused on something else.
“We were capable of re-focusing our guys to what is most important now, is to win games and win the next game. In this case, it was a great performance from everyone.”
The trip that just ended concluded with a pretty good performance: a scoreless draw against powerful Los Angeles Football Club. It also had negatives like zero wins and the same number of goals.
“Though the record may not say so, we remain confident in the current team and (while) we’re unsatisfied with the record, we still believe that we’re trending in the right way,” president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said before Wednesday’s game. “The quality of competition and the spirit within the team is the best in my four years here.”
That will be proven one way or another in the coming months. What was clear entering Wednesday was the Fire’s need for goals and wins, which they got in a rout of woeful New England. The Fire came into the game 2-4-4 and scoreless since the 80th minute of their April 20 win over Colorado.
The Revolution figured to be an opportunity for the Fire. They had allowed 13 goals over their past three games and entered with a -14 goal differential. And for at least one night, the Fire looked like a team capable of taking advantage of chances against bad teams.
In what could be one of the final MLS games at SeatGeek Stadium, Nemanja Nikolic scored twice in the first half and the Fire were actually unlucky not to lead by more than 2-0 after 45 minutes. Nikolic’s first goal, a header in the 28th minute off a Nicolas Gaitan free kick, broke the Fire’s 308-minute scoreless drought. Nikolic scored again off a corner kick in the 41st, doubling the lead.
Brandt Bronico, whose new contract through 2020 with club options in 2021 and 2022 was announced earlier Wednesday, scored in the 78th minute.
“Coming in from the bench, he was just on fire,” Paunovic said.
Gaitan then got on the scoreboard for the first time with the Fire, finishing in the 85th minute. Przemyslaw Frankowski also scored his first Fire goal, connecting in the 90th.
But all of that is a subplot to the off-field developments around the club. Bronico doesn’t think that stuff is seeping into the locker room.
“We just tend to focus on the games, focus on getting better each day and focus on results,” Bronico said. “That’s kind of our main focus.”
NOTES: The Fire were without CJ Sapong, who was out with a thigh injury. Francisco Calvo made his first start and second appearance since being acquired from Minnesota United last week.