Fire

With big game against Toronto looming, Fire first face trip to Montreal

8-16_matchup_fire-at-impact_blank.jpg

With big game against Toronto looming, Fire first face trip to Montreal

The Chicago Fire stormed through May and June without a loss in MLS play, but things have not gone as well lately.

As a result of losing three of the last four games, the Fire have dropped to third in the Eastern Conference and the chasing back isn’t far behind. That’s why general manager Nelson Rodriguez emphasized the importance of Wednesday’s game in Montreal, even with league-leading Toronto visiting Toyota Park on Saturday.

“We can’t look at Toronto yet,” Rodriguez said. “We have to look at Montreal. We just have to. I have to harp on that. A victory in Montreal makes the Toronto game all that more important on a lot of levels.”

The Fire (12-6-5, 41 points) face an Impact (8-8-6, 30 points) team that has won two in a row. The game will be live on CSN with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

After losing at Columbus a few days ago, the Fire had a short turnaround. The busy week, with Toronto still looming on Saturday, comes at a time when the Fire are trying to look like that team from May and June again.

“It’s been an interesting few weeks since the (Gold Cup) break,” Rodriguez said. “Admittedly, we have not regained the form that we took into the break and it’s been a whole new set of tests for us. Certain tests, like just playing quality opponents on the road, such as New York City and Sporting Kansas City, in the two immediate games after the break. Tests that I wouldn’t say we failed, but certainly we didn’t pass and showed that there’s still room for improvement on our end.”

Left back Brandon Vincent will miss a fifth straight game due to a quad injury. Joao Meira is also listed as questionable with a calf injury.

For Montreal, Ignacio Piatti has already established himself as one of the best players in the league. This season he has 10 goals and four assists, but the addition of Blerim Dzemaili has given the Impact another dangerous weapon in the attack. The Swiss international has six goals and five assists in 12 games.

Montreal has suffered three losses at home, but the Fire have lost three straight on the road. The Fire’s recent road struggles was another topic Rodriguez addressed at a media roundtable on Tuesday.

“I think they demonstrate something deeper, which is collective mentality and again I think, look we need to win some games on the road to change that and to improve upon that,” Rodriguez said. “I think it comes from time together, being in the fox hole, falling behind and winning a game on the road, pitching a shutout on the road if I could borrow a baseball phrase. I think we still view being on the road as being on the road as opposed to viewing it as an opportunity to play our way as we want, when we want, where we want, how we want, and so there needs to be some more collective mentality that goes into that. That’s an area that we have to improve upon, and if we don’t, and if we make the playoffs, it will be a short stay.”

Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

Where: Stade Saputo, Montreal

TV: CSN

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-6-5, 41 points), Impact (8-8-6, 30 points)

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

juninho-1210.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

arturo-1210.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

And they're off.

MLS Cup finished just last night with Toronto completing arguably the best season in league history, but the offseason doesn't wait long to get going. The Fire took advantage of Sunday's short trade window before Los Angeles FC's expansion draft takes place on Tuesday by trading Arturo Alvarez to the Houston Dynamo.

Alvarez, a Houston native, gets to go home and could finish his career with the Dynamo. The Fire received a second-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Alvarez, 32, made 55 regular season MLS appearances with the Fire in two years. He had five goals and nine assists in 2016, leading the team in assists. This past season he saw his minutes get nearly cut in half although he did regain a regular spot in the team towards the end of the season and finished with three goals and two assists.

“Arturo had perhaps his two best years wearing our red and we appreciate all that he gave to our club,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the team's statement. “We saw this as a chance to allow him to return home while opening up his minutes for some other players.”

The question is which players Rodriguez is referring to. Alvarez played primarily at right midfield, frequently cutting inside with his dangerous left foot. Two players come to mind as possible fill-ins already on the roster: Daniel Johnson and Brandt Bronico.

Johnson was the Fire's first-round pick in the 2017 draft and showed flashes of ability, but dealt with injuries through much of the season and made eight substitute appearances totaling 125 minutes. He is a wide player, but was the opposite of Alvarez, typically playing on the left and cutting in on his right foot.

Bronico was the 2017 third-round pick and made only four sub appearances adding up to 53 minutes played. With such limited action it was difficult to gauge whether he could be a wide midfielder or should be played centrally. Either way, with Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic out for the first few months of 2018 with ACL tears, both Johnson and Bronico will have opportunities the way the roster is currently constructed.

More news is due later today with the expansion draft set for Tuesday. The Fire will announce the 11 players they are protecting. Homegrown players (Drew Conner and Mihailovic) won't need to be protected. The Fire have 17 others players that will be eligible for the expansion draft.