Sapong scores as Fire ties NYCFC with Ousted and Nikolic on bench
Goalkeeper David Ousted wasn’t thrilled about being benched for the Fire’s 1-1 draw Saturday with New York City FC. And it was news to Ousted that he’s staying on the sideline for the team’s next game.
Ousted had been in net for the Fire’s first 13 games but was replaced by recently signed Kenneth Kronholm. Coach Veljko Paunovic said Kronholm will play Wednesday at D.C. United when the Fire continue a crucial three-game stretch against Eastern Conference contenders.
Apparently, the media heard about the decision before Ousted. He said he didn’t know he was sitting Wednesday until he was asked about it in the dressing room after Paunovic’s news conference.
“That’s the first [time] I hear of it, so, no, I haven’t been told that,” Ousted said. “But, like I said, my job now is to go in and work hard.”
Kronholm was not available for comment.
The Fire had hoped Ousted would stabilize a position that has been unsettled since NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson was sent out after the 2016 season. Ousted’s mistake against Vancouver led to a 1-1 draw, and his inability to control a cross handed San Jose a goal last Saturday during a difficult 4-1 loss to the Earthquakes.
But he also has had positive moments at a position in which mistakes are magnified.
“I think I’ve played well in my beginning here,” Ousted said. “Obviously, I think we as a team had a collective off day — and me as well — in San Jose, and the coach chose something else. My job now is to work hard and get myself back in the starting 11.”
To remind the Fire of what they had, Johnson made his 76th regular-season start for NYCFC since leaving Chicago. Meanwhile, the Fire (4-5-5, 17 points) have started Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Richard Sanchez, Stefan Cleveland, Patrick McLain, Ousted and now Kronholm since Johnson’s departure.
And it appears Ousted isn’t the only key Fire player fighting for a spot in the starting 11.
Nemanja Nikolic, the 2017 Golden Boot winner, has struggled to convert chances and only came on as a 78th-minute substitute. CJ Sapong, who started in place of Nikolic, scored his fifth goal and arguably has been one of the Fire’s best all-around players.
“To give you a short answer,” Paunovic said of the Ousted and Nikolic changes, “it’s a tactical decision for both.”
Unsurprisingly, Ousted said he told Paunovic he disagreed with the change but was ready for the competition.
“I thought I deserved a little bit longer leash,” Ousted said. “Like I said, I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to show that that’s my spot.”