HARRISON, N.J. — The Fire spent significant money on their 2022 squad but have yet to see that investment translate into results. Salary figures released Tuesday showed that forward Xherdan Shaqiri is MLS’ highest-paid player at $8.15 million.
But Wednesday night, the team couldn’t hang on for a needed win, conceding a late equalizer to draw 3-3 on the road against the New York Red Bulls.
Shaqiri did his part, giving the Fire a 3-2 lead in the 89th minute that looked like it would end the their six-game winless streak. But the lead lasted only two minutes as Red Bulls forward Patryk Klimala scored to keep the Fire in search of their first victory since March 19.
“In the blink of an eye, we let it slip away,” Fire coach Ezra Hendrickson said.
Klimala also scored both of the Red Bulls’ goals in their 2-1 win against the Fire at Soldier Field on April 30. The Fire have picked up only two points in their last seven MLS games.
“I’m disappointed because we came here to win the game,” Shaqiri said. “We have to learn from these mistakes. We have to manage the game better.”
Tuesday’s salary release from the MLS Players Association also ranked the Fire fifth-highest in the league with a total guaranteed payroll of $17.65 million.
A defensive downturn has been the biggest reason for the Fire’s recent struggles. After a bright start that saw the team allow only two total goals in its first seven league games, the Fire have allowed 14 in their last five. Two calamitous defensive mistakes led to a 2-1 loss against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, and things weren’t much better against the Red Bulls.
“This was definitely two points dropped,” Hendrickson said. “It feels like a loss.”
The Red Bulls opened the scoring in the 20th minute thanks to a penalty given away by defender Jhon Espinoza. Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina dove in the right direction, but he wasn’t able to stop Lewis Morgan’s shot. Espinoza, making only his second league start of the season, was subbed off at halftime.
New York scored its second goal in a similarly charitable way. Slonina was well positioned to stop a speculative shot from Red Bulls midfielder Cameron Harper, but the youngster mishandled the ball, and it looped over his head and into the net.
Slonina also was at fault for FC Cincinnati’s decisive goal Saturday, but growing pains are to be expected, and he might have a lot on his mind. After celebrating his 18th birthday Sunday, Slonina was called up by Poland on Tuesday for next month’s UEFA Nations League games. He is eligible to play for Poland and the United States but has yet to decide which country he will represent.
“[Slonina is] a mentally tough kid,” Hendrickson said. “He’s still our No. 1.”
The offense was the bright spot for the Fire, whose three goals matched their season high. Several recent acquisitions in addition to Shaqiri made contributions, showing a return on the team’s spending.
Chris Mueller scored his first goal for the Fire in his third appearance since joining the team from Scottish team Hibernian FC two weeks ago. He lashed the ball into the roof of the net after a give-and-go with Brian Gutierrez in the 38th minute, tying the game at 1.
Shaqiri also was involved in the Fire’s second goal. His corner kick in the 49th minute found Jhon Duran at the near post, and he flicked the ball to Wyatt Omsberg for the defender’s first MLS goal.
“I’m hungry for more,” Shaqiri said.