With Dax McCarty away, Juninho seeks to prove his worth for Fire

With Dax McCarty away, Juninho seeks to prove his worth for Fire

Of all the Chicago Fire’s notable acquisitions in the offseason, midfielder Dax McCarty has arguably been the most important.

Goalkeeper Matt Lampson seems to think so.

“It’s amazing how invaluable he is,” Lampson said last week of McCarty. “To me, right now he is the most valuable player on our team because of what he brings, just in mentality and everything that he does every single game. He’s been fantastic for us.”

McCarty has played every minute of the Fire’s 13 games so far. That will change beginning with Sunday’s game at Orlando because McCarty is away with the national team, which is playing a friendly and two World Cup qualifiers before he is expected to return sometime after the June 10 game against Atlanta.

McCarty’s loss could be a big blow to the Fire, which have won four straight games.

“Dax is very important for our team, his leadership and his quality on the field, experience also,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “But also we know that everyone who is working behind and waiting for his opportunity was working hard and expecting to get minutes so whoever steps in we are confident that he is going to do well.”

[MORE FIRE: With Under-20 World Cup back, Fire's Serbian coaching trio relive historic title]

The task for Paunovic, as he put it, is to “find a way that the team works” without McCarty. When asked about who would replace McCarty in the lineup, Paunovic said he wouldn’t tell reporters that.

The most obvious option is Juninho. The Brazilian has started seven matches this season, but none of the last four due to a sprained ankle and the team being on a good run without him.

“I think the time out on the bench was part of the game,” Juninho said. “I’m a player so I have to respect who was doing a good job on the field. When I have to step up I have to show why I am here.”

Juninho has been training the past two weeks after being limited with the ankle sprain. He said he is hoping to play all 90 minutes on Sunday, something he hasn’t done since April 21.

“The coach didn’t decide yet the formation he’s going to use for this game against Orlando, but I have a big chance to be in the lineup,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for it. I was out for a sprained ankle and I was recovering all this time and tried to get minutes, as much minutes as possible. I hope I can be on the field on Sunday.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?


Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union


Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

Normally when revisiting games there are trends or performances that stick out, but the most notable plays from Sunday's Fire win against Philadelphia were the goals.

Here's what stood out from the four goals that were scored from open play in the Fire's 3-2 victory.

Nikolic gives Fire early lead on long ball

Believe it or not this pass was a direct assist on the first goal of the game:

Brandon Vincent is barely beyond his own penalty box when he launches one for Nemanja Nikolic. The ball bounces three times before Nikolic gets his first touch on it. His second touch is a goal.

The pass itself is nothing special and a defensive error plays a part, but it's hard to believe a pass from that far back can result in an assist.

Philly’s first goal is a chain reaction

On the first goal for Philly, the play begins when Matt Polster is caught way too high in press. Philly was building out of back and Polster, the Fire's right back, pressed well past midfield to win a ball and didn't.

When he doesn’t win it, the ball falls to Fafa Picault behind him on the left wing. Next it's off to the races for the Union.

Center back Johan Kappelhof moves wide to cover for Polster and defend Picault, who makes a nice switch to Chris Pontius after the Fire appeared to be getting back in position. C.J. Sapong beats Joao Meira, who a minute before shook off a leg injury that forced him to have a significant limp after the match. Sapong probably had the edge in the first-step department at that point to get some separation. Kappelhof had to try to slide it away because Picault was waiting at the back post for a tap-in.

The Fire had a chance to recover, but it all started with Polster getting caught too high up the field.

Union string passes together to take lead

A Dax McCarty turnover gave Philadelphia possession and the Union combined passes for an impressive team goal. First it was eight straight passes before one was broken up, but Philadelphia immediately regained possession and connected 12 more passes. After an initial cross is headed away, the second pass after that is Haris Medunjanin chipping a pass to Alejandro Bedoya for the goal. Just an impressive team goal from the Union, even if goalkeeper Matt Lampson made things easier for Bedoya on the finish by coming off his line too early.

Nikolic shows his instincts for game-winner

As for the Fire’s third goal, just watch Landon Donovan and recently-fired New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps explain what happened:

(Note: The video appears to be down for some reason even though it's still linked on the homepage of The gist of it is that Nikolic did a great job delaying his run to find the space that set him up for the goal as opposed to crashing the six-yard box and being more tightly marked.)