Fire

Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson believes he is 'vastly improved' from last year

Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson believes he is 'vastly improved' from last year

Matt Lampson is going through a bit of role reversal this year.

Last season, Lampson began the season as the Chicago Fire’s starting goalkeeper. Lampson took the spot even though longtime starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson was still on the roster. He started the first nine matches of the season, but made just two more starts in MLS play the rest of the way.

This year, things are reversed for Lampson. Johnson departed in the offseason, but the Fire brought in Jorge Bava and Bava made the first eight starts. Lampson waited for his chance and got it in the draw at LA on Saturday.

“I’ve been hoping for this the entire year,” Lampson said on Tuesday after training. “I came into the preseason vastly improved on last year, a lot more confidence and I was ready to go help the team win. That’s the number one thing is I’ve been really waiting for my opportunity to help the team win games and I’m glad that I finally got the opportunity.”

Lampson wasn’t credited with any saves, but wasn’t at fault for either of the goals he conceded in the 2-2 draw. The Fire led 2-0 at halftime and Lampson said it was the best first 45 minutes since coach Veljko Paunovic took over before last season.

Lampson said he focused on improving his footwork in the offseason, but it’s the mental side that has changed the most from a year ago.

“I’m not afraid to make mistakes anymore,” Lampson said. “Last year with Sean behind me I knew that there was a ton of pressure for him to play. At this point I’m just confident and I’m just out there playing.”

[MORE FIRE: After always being on dominant teams, Bastian Schweinsteiger is adjusting to the parity of MLS]

With goalkeepers, if you’re not starting, you’re not playing unless the starter gets hurt. Despite entering the season with newfound confidence and belief in his ability, Lampson began the year as the No. 2 goalkeeper and not able to get on the field at all. Lampson was frustrated he couldn’t show what he believes was improvement in his game.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Lampson said. “Everybody always wants to play, but definitely you have to take positives out of it and you have to be mentally strong and be ready for your opportunity when it comes. The number one thing that keeps me going is I’m out here everyday for 30 minutes plus after every practice just improving on things not necessarily to get on the field, but I know it will pay off in the long run when I do get my opportunity. I think that’s what’s happening now.”

Lampson said Paunovic told him the Monday before the LA game that he would be starting. After training on Tuesday, Lampson said Paunovic hadn’t said anything regarding who would get the start Saturday against Seattle.

As Paunovic has said countless times in his Fire tenure, competition for spots in training is something he wants to see. Speaking of Lampson and fellow first-time starter Drew Conner, Paunovic was pleased with how they showed.

“Drew and Matt did well in this game,” Paunovic said. “They deserved it first and they helped the team and that’s the mentality that we forged even last year. We continued doing the same things that we believe are helpful for the team. We also know that our squad improved. The competition on the team is higher than before and that’s what we wanted.”

The 27-year-old Lampson is hoping he can make his starting job stick after being unable to hold down the position last year.

“It felt awesome to get back out there,” Lampson said. “I feel significantly better than I did last year at this time. Hopefully we put a few wins together.”

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

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.