Fire return to reality and Toyota Park for Saturday's match against New England


Fire return to reality and Toyota Park for Saturday's match against New England

Back to reality for the Chicago Fire.

The team’s coaching staff, office staff and a handful of players focused on the All-Star Game as it took place in Chicago this week. Now, it’s back to regular season games in Major League Soccer.

The Fire get to stay at home when they take on New England on Saturday. The game will be on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The Fire’s coaching staff was pulling double duty, training the MLS All-Stars and what players remained with the Fire. Five players were not in training with the team with the team’s four all-stars, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Johan Kappelhof, and Djordje Mihailovic, who played and scored in the homegrown game on Tuesday, unavailable.

“I think this week the guys worked very well, the training was with a small group, but very committed,” Paunovic said after the All-Star Game on Wednesday. “The next game is the most important game from now on. I was working still with Chicago Fire all these days. I was working the same way and putting all my energy in that also.”

The Fire (11-5-5, 38 points) already have a pair of wins against the Revolution (7-9-5, 26 points) this season, but there is a possibility that the Fire enter a bit distracted or less prepared than normal. On top of having a number of key players out of training, and the coaching staff’s attention divided, the people involved had extra duties as hosts, so to speak, of the event.

That may not be clearly visible on Saturday, but it could be a small factor.

“I’m very happy how we did, but now we can focus on only Chicago,” Paunovic said.

The match does represent a needed return home for the Fire. After going winless on a three-match road trip, including losing the last two, the Fire can try to extend the eight-match home winning streak the team has enjoyed. Only two of those eight wins were decided by one goal.

The Eastern Conference has tightened up while the Fire struggled on the road. New York City FC is just one point behind the second-place Fire, a surging New York Red Bulls sit three points back and Atlanta is four points behind the Fire. With 13 matches left in the regular season, the race for playoff positions appears to be worth keeping an eye of the rest of the way.

The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent for the third straight game. Arturo Alvarez, who missed last week’s loss in Kansas City, is listed as questionable with a calf injury.

New England, which has won two straight, enters Toyota Park with a mostly clean bill of health.

The match will also be the Fire's first with MLS' new video review system.

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-5-5, 38 points), New England (7-9-5, 26 points)

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia


Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

The dominoes continue to fall on the Fire's offseason, and seem to be doing so at an increasing pace.

After making two trades on draft day, the blockbuster move of the day broke after the first round completed. As first reported by Paul Tenorio and later announced at the draft, the Fire traded winger David Accam to Philadelphia for $300,000 in General Allocation Money and $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The $1.2 million total is among the biggest allocation money trades in league history.

The move will have major implications on 2018 due to Accam's production since joining the Fire in 2015, but also because it likely is a move to set up other moves. Accam had his best year with the Fire in 2017 with 14 goals and eight assists while only making 24 starts (30 appearances in total).

"David had three very strong years for us and as we move forward though, we thought this would help," general manager Nelson Rodriguez said after the draft.

However, he had voiced his displeasure about being left off the All-Star Game roster by coach Veljko Paunovic, saying he was "disappointed my coach ignored me." Accam seemed to be appeased when the Fire picked up his option for 2018 in August. With his contract situation somewhat more sorted out, it appeared Accam may still have a future with the Fire despite having previously stated a desire to return to Europe at some point in his career.

Despite that history, Rodriguez said the Fire did not initiate talks for the trade.

"David never asked to leave," Rodriguez said. "I think he was surprised by the trade, but you’d have to ask him. It came together over the past week while we were in Florida for the combine and Philadelphia for the draft. The Union was aggressive in its bid and its intention.”

Rodriguez admitted to interest in Accam both from abroad and within MLS in the past. He explained the timing of why the trade was made now and other offers were turned down in the past.

“This was the most attractive offer we had in this window," Rodriguez said. "Circumstances change. We’re different today than we were in August when there were some other offers from overseas clubs. We just felt that this was an opportunity for us to try to advance our championship program in a different way and we thought it was a fair deal for both parties.”

While the move is a big one for Philadelphia in getting a player like Accam, the Fire likely aren't done. This is typically not the type of move that is made without another move in mind. Juan Quintero rumors continue to float around with the Fire and Argentine club River Plate both being mentioned as possible landing places for the Colombian international who has scored at a World Cup.

With Accam leaving, the Fire have an open spot for a Designated Player. Nemanja Nikolic and the recently re-signed Bastian Schweinsteiger are the two DPs on the roster.

Fire deal goalkeeper Matt Lampson to complete draft day trade


Fire deal goalkeeper Matt Lampson to complete draft day trade

Draft day is never boring with Nelson Rodriguez in charge.

The Fire's general manager made two trades to get into the top 10 and one of them sent the starting goalkeeper for much of the 2017 season away to Minnesota. As part of a deal to land Jon Bakero, Matt Lampson went the other direction to the Loons.

The Fire sent $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money and $75,000 of General Allocation Money as well as the No. 15 pick. Lampson was announced later because he needed to be notified before it was made public.

The interesting thing about Lampson's inclusion in the trade is that the Fire had already sent a decent amount of value to Minnesota. D.C. United traded the No. 3 pick to Los Angeles FC for $100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM. Dallas gave $200,000 in GAM to Montreal for the No. 4 pick. The Fire sent $25,000 less in allocation money than the previous two picks went for but added the No. 15 pick and Lampson.

“That was a function of needing to close the deal to get Jon Bakero," Rodriguez said after the draft of Lampson's inclusion in the trade. "Minnesota values Matt and his ability and it was clear to us that we would not be able to complete the deal without his inclusion."

Lampson, initially a Columbus Crew homegrown player, signed with the Fire after trialing with the team in the preseason of 2016. Lampson made 11 starts in 2016, battling Sean Johnson for time between the posts. In 2017, he began the year as the backup to Jorge Bava but won the job and finished the year with 24 regular season starts and started the playoff defeat to the New York Red Bulls.

After Richard Sanchez, who made two starts in the latter part of 2017, was brought back and Jorge Bava exited, it appeared Lampson and Sanchez would be battling for the starting job in 2018. Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland, a second round pick last year, are the two goalkeepers on the roster currently.

"With only two signed goalkeepers, between Richard and Stefan, for sure, just in terms of numbers, we need to add a third," Rodriguez said. "We’ll continue to work through our scouting lists in that position and you also never know what will come available within the league that might be of interest. That position remains incomplete.”

Four goalkeepers were drafted in the first round on Friday, something Rodriguez pointed to which could create more options for the Fire to trade for at that position.

"That might create some competition and if it does there might be some goalkeepers who previously were unavailable and might become available who we would need to consider," Rodriguez said. "So the solution could come from within the league, the solution could come from Richard and Stefan, or we will have to add a third goalkeeper anyway for competition and numbers so we’ll see if it’s from outside.”