Fire

Fire host red-hot Columbus on CSN+

Fire host red-hot Columbus on CSN+

After a disappointing home draw against Montreal last weekend, there is more emphasis for the Chicago Fire to win the remaining two home games in a three-game homestand.

Next up is the Columbus Crew, which the Fire opened the season against with a 1-1 draw in Ohio. Saturday's match against the Crew will air on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

These next two home games, this one and against New England next Saturday, represent a key opportunity to gather some points before the Fire head out on a three-game road trip against tough opposition (Toronto, New York Red Bulls, LA). Columbus, though, is riding a three-game winning streak and leads the Eastern Conference.

The importance of the games is not lost on Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

"We believe that we are improving," Paunovic said. "We are still in a good spot and we are building that momentum. It's most important to win our games at home, but building that momentum so we can have a long winning streak and that's what we are looking for. All our energy, all our thoughts are directing towards building that momentum. The momentum that we couldn't build in the past and we were very close. I think we are getting there now, too."

For David Accam, a match against the Crew means seeing some familiar faces. A pair of Accam's countrymen and fellow Ghanaian national team teammates, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah, are on the Crew. Accam, a left wing, goes against Afful, a right back, often during matches and beat Mensah when he scored the Fire's goal in Columbus in March.

"It's cool because I knew these guys since childhood and it's always fun when I go against them," Accam said. "When I scored that goal, [Afful] was like 'You only score like that against us so we need to take our revenge next game.'"

Mensah may not be available due to a hamstring strain. He was not a full participant in training this week. Homegrown player Alex Crognale filled in for Mensah at centerback in last week's 2-0 win against Orlando.

Columbus may have an addition in the form of Kekuta Manneh. The speedy winger was recently acquired in a trade with Vancouver and could make his Crew debut. He could give another weapon to an attack that already features Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, who have three goals each so far this season.

For the Fire, Matt Polster could be making his debut. The midfielder has been working his way back from a knee injury suffered early in the preseason and was a full participant in training this week. He and Luis Solignac, who is dealing with a left knee strain, are both questionable. Juninho will be serving his red card suspension after getting two yellows against Montreal.

Michael de Leeuw had six stiches in his left hand after getting stepped on against Montreal. He was in training this week with a protective glove on his hand, but is still listed as questionable as he regains fitness from a hamstring injury.

The match also is the second game of the Bastian Schweinsteiger era. The Crew are well aware of the Fire's new German midfielder.

"We have to be ready for every time (Schweinsteiger) has the ball, he can make the final pass," defender Nicolai Naess told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to be ready for everything. We have to look at the video of how they played their last game."

Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

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

Records: Fire (1-1-2, 5 points), Crew (3-1-1, 10 points)

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

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USA TODAY

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.