Fire find enough offense to salvage 1-1 draw with NYCFC

Improving the attack has been a focus for the Fire, who compiled 12 shutouts last year but missed the playoffs.

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Brian Gutierrez and the Fire began their season Saturday night.

Courtesy of the Fire

eams that compile 12 shutouts usually make the playoffs, but not last year’s Fire, who somehow finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and missed the postseason.

They opened the season Saturday night with a 1-1 tie against New York City FC in front of 19,671 at Soldier Field after trying to address their offensive woes. In the last weeks of the preseason, they brought in forwards Kei Kamara and Georgios Koutsias in an attempt to bolster an attack that produced only 39 goals in 2022.

“We always are trying to make the team better, look at our needs, look at our most pressing needs,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said Wednesday. “And we’ve maintained throughout the preseason that putting the ball in the back of the net, getting at least competition in here at the striker position was something that we wanted to focus on.”

The Fire didn’t get a shot on target until the 75th minute, but they made it count. Fabian Herbers scored after his long-range try was deflected to even the game. They stayed competitive despite losing deep-lying midfielders Federico Navarro and Jairo Torres to injury before halftime.

“You have to adjust,” said Herbers, who replaced Torres moments before intermission. “You obviously don’t expect that going into the game.”

Up front, the Fire were hoping and expecting that holdover striker Kacper Przybylko would start the year strong. After coming to the Fire from Philadelphia before last season, Przybylko scored only five goals and was supplanted by Jhon Duran. If he had stayed, Duran would’ve entered the season atop the depth chart, but the Fire sold him to English club Aston Villa in a deal that could be worth $22 million.

With Kamara and Koutsias already in the fold and the Fire still looking for a designated player at striker, it seemed like Przybylko would be on his way out. But Hendrickson shot that down last week.

“Kacper is our player,’’ Hendrickson said. ‘‘He’s here. He’s been here with us. He’s trained all preseason, and he’s here with us. He’s a Chicago Fire player. What happened this past week as far as getting those two players has nothing to do with him leaving or anything like that.”

Przybylko’s first opportunity in 2023 looked painfully familiar. He intercepted a pass midway through the first half and had a clear chance on goal. Instead of attacking directly, Przybylko looked hesitant, and his shot went over the bar.

He was replaced by Kamara to start the second half. The Fire were down 1-0 after a 39th-minute goal by NYCFC’s Gabriel Pereira.

Struggling strikers get the most flak, but there’s more to scoring than just whoever starts at center forward. Kamara, who’s on his 10th MLS team, used Herbers’ goal to illustrate that point.

“It has to be [more than the strikers]; it has to be,” Kamara said. “When you have a team, and you focus on one guy to score goals, it doesn’t become a team. But if you can take the load off the No. 9, and somebody else is scoring, then you can never just pinpoint one guy.”

NOTE: Fire goalkeeper Chris Brady, out with an injured right leg, was replaced by veteran Spencer Richey.

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