After their 1-1 draw on the road with defending MLS Cup champion D.C. United on Saturday night, the Chicago Fire felt pretty good.
Coming into the second week of the season as the only Eastern Conference team without a point to its name, and facing a United team that only lost twice at home in 2004, it was a promising result that the young squad can definitely live with.
"It's never easy at RFK," said Fire head coach Dave Sarachan. "With such a young team, I don't think we're going to be judged until six to eight games in. But we're making progress. With the chances we created, I thought we played well enough to get a point or three."
Midfielder Jesse Marsch agreed, but still thought his team could have forced the action a bit more.
"It was a good result, but I never like a tie," said Marsch. "Sometimes you've got to settle for it and move on to fight another day. We would have liked to dictate the game more. But on the road, it's always a little tougher to put good soccer together.
"The beginning of the year is always a dogfight. Nobody really knows who is going to be good in this league until midway through the season. We've got a lot of young guys and we're making progress."
The Fire went down a goal late in the first half when United defender Mike Petke found the back of the net after a cross from midfielder Christian Gomez on a free kick. But the "Men in Red" showed good composure and focus coming out of the locker room, knotting things up only five minutes into the second half with a well-placed goal by striker Chris Rolfe on a beautiful feed from defender Ivan Guerrero.
Fire captain Chris Armas said the team remained optimistic despite falling behind in the first half.
"We believed we'd get the goal back," said Armas. "Chris (Rolfe) snuck in, got himself in a good spot, and buried it. We tied it and put ourselves in a position to win the game."
"Ivan played me an amazing ball," said Rolfe, who impressed in his first-ever MLS start. "It was a great long ball right into my path. I don't know how he saw me, but I just found it and put it away."
The play of the Fire's young guns, including Rolfe, was instrumental in the favorable outcome. Brazilian newcomer Thiago controlled the midfield in his debut, and goalkeeper Matt Pickens saw his first MLS action filling in for Zach Thornton in the second half, who strained his oblique.
"Thiago is a good technical, attacking player," said midfield mate Armas. "He gives us another option and has a very good approach to the game. He's going to be helpful."
Pickens was tested throughout the second half but was rock solid in goal, making several saves and positioning himself expertly to intercept cross after cross.
"Give credit to Matt Pickens," said Sarachan. "He was put to the test immediately, and he came through with flying colors."
"Pickens did great," said Marsch. "It's always exciting to see young guys come in and have all their hard work in practice pay off. I thought both him and Rolfe had good games."
Marsch said he would have liked to get the win against former teammate and Fire captain, current United head coach Peter Nowak. "Peter is a competitor, and I have a lot of respect for him, but I'd like to beat him," Marsch said.
Sarachan is hopeful that the game will serve as a confidence-builder for his team's home opener next week against San Jose.
"Whenever you get points on the road, it's good for the confidence," said Sarachan. "We were hoping that we could go (home to) Soldier Field with some points. We're a work in progress but each time out we're becoming more and more of a team. We'll be excited to open up Soldier next weekend."
Armas couldn't agree more. "It feels like we've been away for a long time," he said. "The mentality changes at home, with more emphasis on getting three points. We're looking forward to the home opener."
Omar Garriott is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.