Though it was not by design, the Chicago Fire's opening game of the eighth annual Carolina Challenge Cup against Toronto FC turned into a strong preseason test.
Marco Pappa netted the game's lone goal and Chicago played down a man for about 55 minutes and hung on to a 1-0 win over the Reds on Saturday in Charleston, S.C.
The Fire had to abandon their new three-man defensive line early as captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause was issued a straight red card in the 36th minute for a two-footed challenge against Toronto's Oscar Cordon around midfield.
But Chicago already had its lead and the defense held up en route to the shutout. Pappa tallied his third goal of the preseason in the 6th minute on a well-executed sequence. Gaston Puerari provided the cross from the right side to Davis Paul, who then dropped the ball back to Pappa who darted into the box for the finish and the 1-0 lead.
"I got toward the left post and could have taken a shot, but I saw Marco coming in," Paul said. "I passed it back to him and he had a class finish."
Paul is a third-round draft selection (51st overall) of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft who is not signed by the club at the moment. But he made an awfully strong impression as head coach Carlos de los Cobos inserted Paul into a starting role. Paul was involved in many of Chicago's first-half scoring chances, showing sound footwork, good vision and the ability to put Toronto's defense on its toes.
"I think I did pretty well," Paul said. "Carlos gave me the start, and as a rookie you always want to make a good impression and make the best of your opportunity."
Paul and Pappa appeared to be in sync on several occasions. One sequence later in the first half included a well-timed pass from Paul to lead Pappa toward the near left post. Pappa crossed the ball, but Bratislav Ristic's volley went well wide right of the net.
"Marco's great. We've had the chance to connect and talk before the game," Paul said. "We're both comfortable on the left side and we made some nice overlapping runs. He's a smart player."
With Pause out with the red card, the Fire had to drop back on defense. Ristic moved out of the midfield and had several good disruptions against Toronto's offense.
Despite being down a man, the Fire had a good chance to push their lead to 2-0 in the 58th minute. A low corner kick from the left side bounced into the box for Chicago defender Cory Gibbs. But Gibbs' shot was pushed wide left and hit the side netting.
Toronto maintained the bulk of possession in the second half, but the Reds rarely tested Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Toronto's best offensive stretch included chances in the 75th and 78th minutes.
In the 75th, Cordon had a right-footed strike from close range that was pushed wide right of the goal. Then in the 78th, Maicon Santos' deep shot was destined for the upper right corner, but Johnson turned it away with his best effort in the goal.
Next up for the Fire is a 4 p.m. CT match on Wednesday against D.C. United as the Carolina Challenge Cup resumes play. D.C. defeated the host Charleston Battery, 2-1, later Saturday night in the second game.