CARSON, Calif. – The Chicago Fire dropped three points in a game they believed they should have won.
Perhaps most impressive was 23-year-old Polish attacker Przemyslaw Frankowski, the most dynamic player on the field at Dignity Health Sports Park. He was at the heart of much of what the Fire created, providing great hope for a club that missed the MLS postseason last year for the fifth time in six years.
His set up two early chances, hit the post 11 minutes into the second half, nearly connected with CJ Sapong for what would have been a 2-0 lead two minutes after that, then fed Sapong from the right byline for a would-be go ahead goal five minutes before Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted the winner.
“He just stretches the defense,” Sapong said. “Whenever you have that kind of player, it takes one run for [the opponent] to acknowledge his speed and his pace, and from that it opens up space for everybody else on the field. With [Aleksandar] Katai, who has very good technical ability and the ability to, with a quick shot, put us ahead, it really gives is a very dynamic attack.”
Frankowski's partnership with Katai and Djordje Mihailovic behind Sapong, who got the start after Nemanja Nikolic arrived late in Southern California after his wife gave birth to their first child, bodes well for an attack that head coach Veljko Paunovic sees as “unpredictable.”
“You saw him,” Paunovic said. “The guy's capable of turning and committing the defense over and over again. The whole game he was trying, and he delivered a lot to the team, and we had a lot of opportunities. We just have to be sharper.”
Paunovic said Sapong’s work in occupying both LA center backs was key to the Fire's “superiority in midfield” and ability to take “control of the game and the ball,” and also praised Brazilian center back Marcelo, who kept Ibrahimovic quiet much of the match and defused a couple of dangerous situations involving Emmanuel Boateng.
Goalkeeper David Ousted, picked up on waivers in late January, was astounding in the nets, making big first-half parries of a point-blank Daniel Steres header and unexpected shots from Jonathan Dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini, then offering a save-of-the-year candidate to deny Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute – “fantastic stops,” in Paunovic’s words.
Frankowski was active from the start and was dangerous on either side – he'd played strictly on the right with Jagiellonia Białystok and Poland's U-21 and full national teams – or from the middle. Paunovic said the plan was to play him “everywhere.”
“Our style is very, very unpredictable, I like to say. We like to be creative and create problems to our opponent, and we see where it works better,” explained the coach. “And sometimes it will be on the left, on the right, we'll see somewhere else. Maybe we'll find another position for him.”
Frankowski said he “felt very good in my first game” and enjoyed “the hype around the game” – augmented by the unveiling of David Beckham's statue in front of the stadium's main entrance before the match – that was “a big difference” from playing at home. He took the defeat hard, blaming himself for the loss after failing to connect with an open Sapong after getting free on the right.
“I'm extremely disappointed in the result,” he said in Polish. “It doesn't matter [what I did well], because all I care about is the team, and I feel like I let them down in the situation where were on a counterattack and I didn't deliver a good ball and we didn't score for 2-0. That was my mistake.”
Sapong shouldered some blame on that play, too.
“There were a couple of moments in the game where I'm always going to look at what I could do better,” he said when asked about the sequence. “If it's just [being] a split second quicker or anticipating the ball, I think we come away with a couple of goals early in the game. That makes it hard for [the Galaxy] to chase … luckily we have 33 more games to correct that.”
Paunovic loved that the Fire “created a bunch of opportunities, great opportunities, and if we play like this, we're going to have a lot of good games and wins and we're going to be successful again.”