A nearly full Sporting Park saw the one-time Wizards dominate play against Chicago Fire in Sporting’s home opener, but ultimately come away with nothing but a single point in the standings.
Sporting started the match brightly, deploying C.J. Sapong on the right wing, where he combined well with center forward Claudio Bieler. Sapong’s industrial work down that right side won Sporting early fouls in the Chicago half. However, Sporting was unable to do anything with the proceeding free kicks as Chicago’s defense stood strong.
One significant change by Peter Vermes for the match was the inclusion of right back Jerome Mechack. The defender was signed from Sporting’s USL Pro affiliate Orlando City in the preseason. Mechack’s early movement and ability to get forward from the right back position put Chicago’s left side under immense pressure. Though the team would move away from this tactic as the half wore on.
Sporting’s first good chance, however, would come from the other side as former Barcelona B player Oriol Rosell put Sapong in on goal, only for Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to collect the pass from Sapong’s outstretched boot. The first quarter of an hour saw Sporting with much of the position, hemming Chicago into its on half, but unable to get off a clear chance at goal.
Much of the early minutes of the game, Chicago spent defending and once winning the ball gave it away too easily. Fire coach Frank Klopas chose to start winter signing Joel Lindpere on the bench, preferring a more defensive central pair to his five man midfield. This gave Patrick Nyarko the responsibility of being the attacking outlet down the right side, an area the Fire attempted to exploit, but couldn’t. As the first half wore on and Sporting continued to pass the ball around, Chicago was content with soaking up the pressure and trying to hit on the counter. Meanwhile, Sporting couldn’t find the cutting edge in the final third.
On the verge of halftime Sporting was awarded a free kick just inside the corner arc. Graham Zusi’s ball in was eventually cleared as Sporting couldn’t get on the end of it. However, the Fire’s reprieve was only temporary as Sporting continued to press with or without the ball. Despite its relentless pressure, Chicago continued to frustrate Sporting as the halftime whistle blew.
Sporting started the second half much like the first, on the front foot. Left back Seth Sinovic rumbled forward, but his shot was pushed behind by Johnson. A few minutes later it was Mechack’s turn to get forward, putting in a cross that was met by Sapong before being deflected behind for a corner. But just as in the first half, Sporting was unable to cash in on the opportunity.
In the fifty-four minute midfielder Paulo Nagamura tested Johnson who fisted the ball into the path of Bieler. Fortunately for the Fire’s shot-stopper, all Bieler could do was nod the ball behind. Despite this, Sporting continued to harass and hurry the Fire, but worryingly could not find that final ball. The Fire finally got themselves back into things momentarily thanks to Nyarko’s interception of a Matt Besler pass. His cross was cleared, but the Fire enjoyed its first prolonged period of position to that point.
On the hour mark Sinovic was again in an advanced position, putting in a dangerous cross that was merely waved at by Johnson. Again the Fire escaped as Sporting ratcheted up the pressure once more. As the second half continued Sporting’s Designated Player Bieler continued to be marked tightly by the Chicago center backs, leaving him isolated. Since Bieler’s early one-twos with Sapong, he had barely had a kick of the ball. Bieler did half a chance in the seventy-first minute, but scuffed his shot off a defender for a corner. Sporting again couldn’t do much from the corner as the team looked more likely to pass Chicago to death than shoot with purpose or inside the 18-yard box.
Sapong’s seventy-third minute shot was easily saved by Johnson as Sporting continued to pile on the pressure despite shear frustration in front of goal. Sporting had one more good chance, though like its others it came from outside the Chicago penalty area, when substitute Soony Saad fizzed a shot just outside the post. With only minutes to play Zusi looked likely to settle things, but his shot from about eight-yards out flew over the cross bar.
In the end, Sporting’s domination of position mattered little as the team ultimately came away with a share of the spoils in a scoreless draw.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @CalcioFarmer. Drew is a senior writer for ForzaItalianFootball.com and Genoa correspondent.