BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas wasted no time in getting his newest midfielders Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo into the mix.
At this stage, the last-place Fire (2-6-13) need to throw out all the punches with 13 matches remaining on the season.
Chicago is coming off a 1-1 home draw against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. The Fire were the better team in the run of play, and much of the credit can be directed toward Grazzini.
"He can create, he can make the final pass -- he's dangerous," Klopas said. "He's exciting for the fans to watch. Definitely brings something different to the table."
The Argentine midfielder was incredibly active from side to side, made aggressive pushes forward, tracked back when necessary and was creative with the ball. His mere presence out there seemed to have a snowball effect where other Fire players also demonstrated an increased aggressiveness, piecing together some good strings of passing and crisp movement with and without the ball.
"He can draw two, three players and leave a guy free," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "For wide guys like myself and Marco [Pappa], it gives us more chances to be more advanced, rather than coming deep for the ball and try to create from there. We can get the ball wherever and try to run at players and find you in the final third where you can be more of a threat. Rather than coming all the way back, that's the ability [Grazzini] brings in. We fed off of that. It's just unfortunate that we couldn't get the win."
"When he gets the ball you need a lot of mobility and movement," Klopas said. "I think Dominic [Oduro] made great runs with Patrick and Marco, and I think that we created many chances. It's just unfortunate about the quality in the final third, the concentration. It's stuff that we've been working on."
Grazzini arguably was the best player on the pitch between the two teams. Klopas said that Grazzini signaled that he was tiring and was then subbed out of the match in the 66th minute. But his increased tiring was not evident. Grazzini maintained a high work rate.
As a defensive midfielder, Pardo's impact typically won't be as evident as Grazzini's. But the Guadalajara native stepped up with the Fire's lone goal and he would have added an assist in the 34th minute if Oduro finished his high-quality scoring chance behind the Union defense.
"It was just fantastic to see the first game," Klopas said. "Not just because he scored a goal, but the leadership qualities on the field and how good he was with the ball. In the first half he made a great pass to Dominic that was a breakaway, brings the ball down. Stuff like that gives us another attacking dimension."
Because of Cory Gibbs' leg injury in the opening 10 minutes, Klopas was forced to burn an early substitution. That meant Pardo had to play the full 90 in his debut.
"With him, I was less concerned with his fitness, even though he's been with us for a week," Klopas said. "He's a guy with tremendous experience, great pro. He's always taking great care of himself or else he wouldn't have played so many years at that level, for sure. And he was smart. You could see in the first half that he knew when to run, where to be, not waste energy foolishly when you're running around, and that's what you get with him."
This will be a difficult week for both players as the Fire quickly prepare for a road trip against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. But clearly both players' presence will be vital for Chicago down the stretch.
"You saw what two experienced players will add to this team," said Fire captain Logan Pause, who shifted to right back with Pardo's presence in the starting lineup. "I think their work, not only on the field but in the locker room and off the field, is going to be huge for this group."