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Fire set tone, win home opener over K.C.

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Last year's .500 record at home was a glaring problem that the Chicago Fire wanted to fix this season.

It got off to a good start on Saturday.

Diego Chaves scored his second goal in as many games, and Gaston Puerari and Marco Pappa also added scores as the Fire defeated Sporting Kansas City, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 12,157 at their home opener at Toyota Park.

"In the past, we haven't won our first game at home, and that didn't set the tone," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We feel like we've set the tone for the remainder of the season, and teams that come in here, we're going to try and make it a fortress."

Pappa's 59th-minute goal proved to be the game-winner for the Fire (1-0-1) as he maneuvered through four Kansas City players and slotted the ball toward the lower left side of the goal for a 3-1 lead.

"I saw Diego running [nearby], but as I had the ball in front of me, I shot," Pappa said. "I'm happy with my goal. I wanted to score today."

Despite the two-goal advantage and Kansas City (1-1-0) playing down a man for nearly an hour, Sporting K.C. hung around with Teal Bunbury's 72nd-minute goal to cut Chicago's lead to 3-2. A poor back pass from the Fire created Bunbury's chance, and Fire defender Josip Mikulic and goalkeeper Sean Johnson could not halt the attack as Bunbury's shot went below Johnson's glove.

Kansas City's other goal also was the result of a mistake in the back as Matt Besler's 51st-minute goal came after the ball bounced away from Johnson on a cross from the left side.

"Those are things at this point of the year where we're kind of wiping our brow, the few [mistakes] we got away with," said Fire defensive midfielder Logan Pause, who played in his 200th MLS game. "We'll take the three points because it's crucial, especially at home."

Chaves' 34th-minute goal gave the Fire a 1-0 lead as he slotted a penalty kick past Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who incorrectly guessed to his right. Chicago's lead was the result of Puerari drawing a foul in the penalty box against Sporting K.C. midfielder Omar Bravo in the 30th minute. After a couple of minutes of deliberation between referee Jasen Anno and a sideline official, Anno issued a red card to Bravo.

It marked the second straight game that the Fire played with a man advantage, as FC Dallas defender Brek Shea was issued a red during Chicago's 1-1 draw last week.

The Fire maintained their attack as Chicago's other Uruguayan forward, Puerari, tallied a 40th-minute goal to take a 2-0 lead. In the buildup, Pappa dished the ball into midfielder Michael Videira in the middle. Videira then sent the ball upfield as Puerari and Pappa made similar runs toward the top of the box. Videira got to the ball and took a low shot past Nielsen.

Sporting K.C. played without Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica), who were absent because of international duty.

Analysis: Despite the tight scoreline, the match never really was in doubt for the Fire as they held the brunt of possession, created the best scoring chances and of course had the man advantage in their corner. But surprisingly, in both of this year's games, the Fire's man advantage has not translated into a scoring advantage. The Fire and K.C. traded two goals apiece in Saturday's game after Bravo's red card, and the Fire and Dallas went scoreless when FCD was down a man.

Offensively, the Fire have shown quite a bit that the team hadn't shown last season. Puerari, while he probably takes a tumble a little too often, moves so ferociously that his high work rate pays dividends. On Saturday, it eventually turned into Chaves' penalty-kick goal and a tally of his own.

On the flip side, Kansas City's defense was shaky. Pappa's effort should be applauded, but Sporting K.C.'s defense was horrendous during that sequence. At least three different K.C. players should have disrupted the play, and captain Davy Arnaud was almost stationary near the top of the box.

The Fire's win ended Kansas City's three-game unbeaten run at Toyota Park. Sporting K.C. was 2-0-1 at the Fire's home field over the past three seasons. Saturday's ending was not the smoothest for the Fire, but getting the first home victory is vital. Over the years, Toyota Park had turned into a place of missed opportunities and missed points.