Fire

Fire can't hold onto halftime lead in draw with LA

Fire can't hold onto halftime lead in draw with LA

The Fire had a chance to continue the momentum from Saturday’s win at Montreal, but couldn’t put the finishing touches on a second-straight win.

Instead, the Fire settled for a 2-2 draw at home against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday after the Fire led at halftime.

After a dull first quarter of the match, the game featured four goals, two more called back for offside, a number of close chances and wide open play.

LA’s U.S. national teamer Gyasi Zardes opened the scoring in the 31st minute and the floodgates opened soon after. Zardes pounced on a loose ball in the box with a hard and low shot.

Just three minutes later the Fire (5-11-8, 23 points) equalized with a goal that also required a couple deflections to wind up at the feet of an open shooter. Michael de Leeuw put a header on target and LA goalkeeper Clement Diop came up with the initial save. However, the save bounced off defender A.J. DeLaGarza’s face and landed right to Arturo Alvarez, who scored with a half volley.

[SHOP: Get your own Fire jersey here]

The Fire completed the turnaround when Luis Solignac was tripped in the box for a penalty kick, which David Accam converted to give the hosts a 2-1 lead in the 39th minute.

"I think the way we came back and how fast we did that, I think that’s something that is very positive for us," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Against a great team, a big team, it even counts more. I think also as we said during this year we were working hard to get to this moment where we can actually feel as a real team, a team that can win (against) anyone.”

Even if the Galaxy (9-4-12, 39 points) are arguably the deepest team in the league, LA didn't bring a full strength lineup to Toyota Park. Giovani Dos Santos didn't start, but did eventually score the tying goal, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard weren't even included on the list of substitutes in the matchday lineup and Nigel De Jong was available as a substitute but didn’t play.

Dos Santos connected with another sub, Alan Gordon, for that tying goal in the 69th minute. Gordon centered a ball from the right to Giovany Dos Santos, who scored with his first touch.

"I’m feeling very sorry for our guys, very disappointed that we couldn’t get more from this game," Paunovic said. "I think the performance was fantastic. I think we finally feel we are there, where we wanted to be during all this year."

Earlier in the second half, Chicago had a golden opportunity to take a two-goal lead when David Accam chased down a long ball and dribbled around LA goalkeeper Clement Diop. Diop came way off his line, but with an open goal in front of him Accam dribbled into the box and passed to Luis Solignac. Solignac missed the shot with two defenders, but still no goalkeeper in his way.

The Fire were unable to put the game away, but did hold an 8-3 edge in shots on target and the Galaxy's only shot on target in the second half was the goal. The Fire also had 51 percent of the possession, which is the third time this season the Fire had most of the possession.

"I know everyone has talked about the whole not winning away and we were able to do it in Montreal," Alvarez said. "It was a great performance overall from everyone so that game alone just kind of gave everyone that boost that we needed. I think it showed in this game as well. Unfortunately it didn’t go the way we wanted to. Then again that’s LA for you, they always find a way to come back into games and they did this time.”

The Fire's draw coupled with Columbus' loss to Philadelphia means the Fire are now tied with the Crew in the Eastern Conference, but remain six points out of the playoffs. The Fire next play Saturday at D.C. United.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

schwein-not-playing.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.

Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan

katai-loan.jpg
AP

Fire add Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai on loan

With the recent trade of David Accam and injuries to two players who logged key minutes last season, the Fire’s attack has looked significantly shorthanded since the start of the preseason. Help is on the way.

The Fire announced a loan move for Serbian midfielder Aleksander Katai on Tuesday. Katai joins from Spanish La Liga club Deportivo Alaves. The loan is through June 30, according to Alaves’ website, although the Fire have an option to buy at the end of the loan.

If the Fire continue to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, Katai can play all three attacking spots in support of Nemanja Nikolic. He typically plays at right wing. In addition to trading Accam, the Fire also traded winger Arturo Alvarez and will be without Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic until around July or August as those two recover from ACL tears.

The short-term loan should at least cover the time until those two start to return, but also allows the Fire some time to evaluate the player before spending a transfer fee to add him permanently.

Katai, whose 27th birthday coincides with the day of the move, played in Serbia and Greece before making the move to Alaves. He joined Alaves in August of 2016 and has made 30 appearances for the club, but just four appearances and no starts this season. A move to the Fire gives him a much better chance at regular playing time, hooks him up with Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic and could potentially increase his chances of making the Serbian World Cup roster. Katai has played six times for Serbia.


The high point of Katai’s career was taking the scoring crown of the Serbian Superliga with Red Star Belgrade in the 2015-16 season when he scored 21 goals. That prompted the move to Alaves the following season, but Katai only scored three goals in 20 La Liga matches that season.

The Fire likely still need more help in the attack or the team will have to trust some young talent to log heavy minutes. Even if Katai plays underneath Nikolic or moves Luis Solignac to that spot, Accam’s vacancy at left wing is still there unless second-year player Daniel Johnson can step in.

Katai will join the Fire in the middle of the preseason. The Fire already beat the University of South Florida, the Fire’s host through this portion of the preseason, 2-0 with goals from Nikolic and third-round pick Elliot Collier. The Fire’s next preseason game is Thursday against Accam’s new team, the Philadelphia Union.