Fire

Big playoff implications for Fire's game in Montreal

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USA TODAY

Big playoff implications for Fire's game in Montreal

The list of players that won’t be playing in Saturday’s match between the Fire and the Montreal Impact could make for a pretty good team.

The Impact will be without six players who will be away for international duty and the Fire will be missing Dax McCarty for the same reason and are still shorthanded on defense due to injuries.

The timing of having so many players away for both teams coincides with the game having taken on greater significance due to recent results. Montreal (10-9-6, 36 points) had won four straight before dropping a home match to Toronto last weekend. The Fire (12-9-5, 41 points) have lost four in a row and six of seven and are now just five points ahead of the Impact and Montreal has a game in hand.

That means Saturday’s game (televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live) is a big one as far as getting into the playoffs. A loss for the Fire means the team’s playoff spot is very much up in the air. A win, or probably even a draw, will allow fans to take a deep breath for now. The Fire lost 3-0 in Montreal just over two weeks ago.

“There we make a couple of mistakes in the beginning of the game,” forward Nemanja Nikolic said. “They opened the game really good and after that we run just for the result. It was a really difficult game for us, now we need to be clever.”

The Impact will be without forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Canada), midfielders Blerim Dzemaili (Switzerland), Samuel Piette (Canada) and David Choiniere (Canada) and defenders Laurent Ciman (Belgium) and Shaun Francis (Jamaica). Ciman and Dzemaili are two of Montreal’s best players and Jackson-Hamel is second on the team with seven goals. Piette and Francis are recent acquisitions. Choiniere has been a rarely used sub.

McCarty is arguably the most important player on the Fire and the team’s defense is still going to be down at least three players. Joao Meira and Brandon Vincent will both be out though Matt Polster could return after rejoining the team in training this week. Polster has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Christian Dean’s injury last week against Minnesota means the Fire have two healthy center backs in Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell.

With all those players missing, things could be very different from the recent meeting. That said, Montreal is still a dangerous team with Ignacio Piatti (15 goals, 4 assists) in the attack.

“Both teams are in a different mood right now with different available players, us because of the injuries and they because of the players that are going with the national team,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “So we will see. It’s going to be a different game definitely. Last year we won there 3-0, this year they won 3-0 so we’ll see this one.

“It’s the opportunity to have a great game and finally recover all this great mood that we had in the past.”

The Fire have lost four straight on the road and given up 11 goals in those four games. The Fire sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and the three teams below in the standings all have at least one game in hand. The sense of urgency to get a result is real.

“We have to do better,” Juninho said. “We know them very well. We know what to expect. It’s going to be a good challenge for us as well. We have to go there and get points. In this time of the year you have to go get points the maximum you can.”

Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

Where: Stade Saputo, Montreal

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-9-5, 41 points), Montreal (10-9-6, 36 points)

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

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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

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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.