Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list


Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list

As Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League have partnered, the USL has become a more viable league for player development.

Each year the USL showcases some of the young talent in its league with the USL 20 Under 20 series posted to the league’s website, rankings the top 20 USL players who are 20 years old or younger. It’s the closest thing to MLS prospect rankings you’ll see.

This year, Fire homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez made the list at No. 18. Fernandez has been playing on loan with the Tulsa Roughnecks this season and is getting positive reviews for his play.

The scouting report on his 20 Under 20 bio, which came via, called this a breakthrough season for Fernandez:

Deployed in a deeper midfield role instead of an attacking midfield spot, Fernandez has been able to adjust to the USL and let his passing ability shine. Fernandez is in the top five for Tulsa’s passes and passing percentage, as the move deeper in the lineup allows him to get on the ball and help his side transition from attack to defense. While he’s more of a slight build, the experience this season has shown that he can stamp his authority against bigger, older players.

Fernandez, 20, struggled to get playing time in his first two years of professional soccer. In 2015 and 2016 he made just three combined appearances that totaled 14 minutes. Fernandez was on loan with Saint Louis FC, another USL team, for much of 2016, but injuries and time with Peru’s under-20 national team prevented him from being available to St. Louis on a consistent basis.

This year, Fernandez has made 13 starts and another appearance off the bench for 1,134 minutes played. He has a goal and a pair of assists.

“What’s been good about Tulsa is they saw and (coach) David Vaudreuil saw Collin in a way that we didn’t so he’s played more as an eight, which is something that we hadn’t considered, and he’s done well,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said in May. “So it’s made us rethink how we look at Collin, so that’s been good.”

Another player the Fire had on loan in Tulsa was Joey Calistri. Calistri was recalled to the Fire this week and had good things to say about Fernandez’s play.

“He’s been playing really well,” Calistri said. “He’s been playing holding mid for us and he did a great job. He’s up and down. He can cover a lot of ground. He’s like a little pitbull out there. He’s a good player. He’s good in the middle, a lot of energy out there and he definitely helped Tulsa do very well.”

Fernandez had an impressive assist in a game on July 13:

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.