Fire head to Yankee Stadium for big Eastern Conference clash


Fire head to Yankee Stadium for big Eastern Conference clash

There’s no easing out of the break for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire return after having two and a half weeks between games to take on one of the top rivals in the Eastern Conference race. The Fire head to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC on Saturday.

The match will be televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The Fire last played July 5 in Portland, taking time off while the Gold Cup group stage took place. Bastian Schweinsteiger missed that match with a hip injury that caused him to leave the previous match against Vancouver early, but he says he is ready to go in The Bronx.

“I was a little bit unlucky that I had this injury and I couldn’t play against Portland,” Schweinsteiger said. “If the game would be on a Saturday (three days after the match took place) I probably could play the game. The break was nice. It was good to recover. Not only for the body, but also for the head. Actually more for the head. I’m ready for the second part of the season. We have a good position in the standings, but it’s going to be more tough for us. I think other teams, they analyze us as well now. They play maybe in a different style against us so we have to find solutions and prepare ourselves.”

The Fire return from the break with a mostly clean bill of health. Defender Jonathan Campbell is listed as questionable with a right ankle injury.

New York City is in the middle of a crucial stretch for the race at the top of the conference. Toronto FC, which currently leads the league with 39 points, just earned a 2-2 draw in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. NYCFC is four points behind the Fire (11-3-5, 38 points) with a 10-6-4 record (34 points).

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic always hypes up the upcoming match, but wasn’t shy to speak of the extra importance of Saturday’s clash of playoff contenders.

“It’s everything, this game is everything,” Paunovic said. “We are now in a good spot. We have time to prepare. We have time to see them, but also we have to know that we have to work.”

Schweinsteiger called NYCFC one of the best teams in the league, along with Toronto. He also praised the style the team plays with under coach Patrick Vieira.

“I really appreciate how they play and how they behave also on the pitch,” Schweinsteiger said. “It’s going to be not an easy match for us away, but we are confident. We are confident. We are trying to find solutions to prepare ourselves during the week for that game and I’m very looking forward to play in Yankee Stadium. It’s a little bit different, it looks a little bit different when I saw it on TV, but I’m looking forward to this match.”

When set up for soccer, Yankee Stadium features a small field. The tight dimensions could make it tougher for the Fire’s preferred style of building out of the back with possession.

“You have to prepare for that,” Schweinsteiger said. “The pitch is smaller than, for example, let’s say I played in Barcelona in Nou Camp. It’s a huge field over there so it’s different. We have to know that and obviously we have to focus of course on our game, but also on the other team. They have David Villa, one of the best players in the league.”

Villa, who was voted into the All-Star Game as part of the Fan XI alongside Schweinsteiger and Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, is second to Nikolic with 13 goals and also has seven assists.

Chicago Fire at New York City FC

Where: Yankee Stadium, New York


When: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-3-5, 38 points), NYCFC (10-6-4, 34 points)

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.