TORONTO – Mired in a road winless streak of epic proportions, Chicago Fire took the positives from their 1-0 loss at Toronto FC on Saturday night.
TFC scored the game's only goal in the ninth minute through Justin Morrow, but Veljko Paunovic and his side made adjustments, pushed back, and did not concede again, showing elements of growth that will serve them well in the future.
“We came out slow,” admitted Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson of their start. “We were on the back foot, but the fighting spirit was there. That is [what] we are going to need going forward. When you are down in a match, backs against the wall, you have to dig your way out and display character, like we did today.”
“Congratulations to our players on a great effort, especially in the second half,” echoed Paunovic. “We had opportunities, played well, and I thought we could tie the game.”
“[I'm] happy about having the identity and playing tough and hard until the end” he continued. “I am proud.”
The catalyst for much of their threat, as he has been these past weeks, was striker David Accam, since returning from a knee injury early in the campaign.
“Not everyone can see how much he has improved [his] work for the team, the commitment that he is [giving], since he got back from the injury,” said Paunovic of his new captain's efforts.
Along Accam and Johnson, who made four saves on the night, newcomer Michael de Leeuw was singled out for discussion post-match, having made his MLS debut at halftime.
“Michael came fresh, adjusted very well to the pace and demands of this league,” said Paunovic. “He’s building the trust now with the teammates and connections. Very dynamic; in the box, very dangerous. We expect him to improve our attack and score goals; no pressure – he knows what is expected.”
“It feels good,” said de Leeuw after his 45 minutes. “But [we] lost 1-0; that doesn’t.”
Despite those factors, Chicago lost a sixth-straight road match, and are still mired in that two-year old, 33-match road winless skid.
The answer to that oft-repeated question – how does one end such a streak?
“Improving our mentality,” said Paunovic. “The only way is like we did today: be consistent, working hard, and believing. That's what we did today. There are some improvements, but of course, they have to be converted into results and goals.”