BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – When Chicago Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini jumped in front of New York goalkeeper Luis Robles on Sunday to head home the game-tying goal in an eventual 3-1 Fire win, he wiped away two weeks of guilt.
Twice in the Fire's previous two games, Paladini had wide-open chances in the box, and twice, he couldn't finish. When he pounced on Robles' mistake, he put those missed chances behind him.
“He put up a perfect ball, and the wind caught it, and I knew I was going to get there before the goalie,” he explained afterward. “I did feel a little bit like I let those guys down. … There was some relief there to get that goal.”
Paladini assisted on the second goal of the game, pouncing on a 50-50 ball in the midfield before dishing the ball off to Maicon Santos, who juked his defender and scored. He also served up the free kick that led to Santos' second goal.
Paladini's man of the match performance only happened because of injuries to Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko. Throughout his eight-year career, in which he's jumped back and forth between the USL and MLS, Paladini has had to rely on opportunism to prove his worth.
Whenever the Fire have asked him to step up over the last two years, he's performed admirably.
“He has quality and when we've called him to step in, he's done it,” coach Frank Klopas said. “He's a guy who's pushing because he needs to be on the field and playing.”
But Paladini may have proved on Sunday that he should be a permanent fixture in the starting lineup.
With Nyarko and Duka set to come back in the coming weeks, Klopas is going to have some difficult decisions to make. But even if Paladini once again returns to the bench, he's happy to fight for a spot once again. That battle for playing time has fueled him, he said.
“I've always had to work for what I've had,” Paladini said. “Now, it's paying off.”