A winless start to the season has left Philadelphia searching for answers.
It's difficult to win soccer matches under even the best of circumstances. As the Philadelphia Union found out Saturday night in Chicago, it's doubly tough to win when the odds are stacked against you.
Missing midfielder Freddy Adu and right back Sheanon Williams to USA U-23 Olympic camp, and central defender Danny Califf to a knee injury, the team fought valiantly but lost 1-0 in the Fire's home opener, having no points to show for any of its three matches thus far.
"It's never easy to be in this situation like we are right now after three games," said Union Team Manager Peter Nowak. "It's never easy to look at the standings after the game."
Chicago's Dominic Oduro scored the match's lone goal in the 28th minute, a header that just escaped Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath's outstretched fingers inside the near post.
The well-traveled Ghanaian international said, "As a forward, it's my job to score wherever the ball is. In the air or on the ground, I need to get it. [Marco] Pappa made a great delivery, and I was right there to put it in."
Despite a consistent second half attack, Philadelphia could not beat newly-acquired goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi to equalize.
With ten minutes remaining in the match, holding midfielder Gabriel Gomez put two free kicks on goal from just outside the penalty area, but Tornaghi caught one and just barely parried away the second.
Veteran Fire defender Cory Gibbs said of Tornaghi, "Paolo has had a rough road coming from overseas, regardless of the position he was in he stepped right in and played a spectacular game."
Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas praised Tornaghi, the former Inter youth-teamer, but credited the quality of the entire squad. "Paolo's game was super, but it's important that the rest of the team helped. The victory is the team's."
Despite another disappointing result, Philadelphia showed signs of improvement in both the offensive and defensive zones.
"It was a full 90 [minutes] that I think I didn't make any big mistakes like the previous games, so I was happy about that," said MacMath, who came up with four saves. "It definitely builds my confidence moving forward."
Novak, who also found some positives to take away from another loss, admitted his side put in a strong shift despite defeat.
"They are pushing very hard," said Nowak after the match. "I can't say one bad thing about the effort...we have the quality to win games."
His team will try to finally do just that, hosting Vancouver this Saturday afternoon at PPL Park. The Whitecaps, at 2-0-1, lead the Western Conference at this early stage and have yet to concede a goal.
Midfielder/defender Gabriel Farfan, who saw his first action of the season against Chicago, believes his team is well-equipped to handle the struggle of fighting towards that first victory.
"We always want to get three points, and right now we need three points more than ever," said Farfan. "But right now we don't feel the pressure too much," he said. "I think all the guys in the locker room can handle it."
The Olympic hopefuls will be inactive again for that match, and the status of veteran lynchpin Califf, out the past two games, is still very much up in the air.
Chicago travels to Colorado, where they will do battle next Sunday evening with an undefeated Rapids team.