Fire

Fire try to extend home unbeaten run against Colorado on CSN+

Fire try to extend home unbeaten run against Colorado on CSN+

The Chicago Fire didn’t have much time to enjoy Saturday’s big win against Seattle.

Four days after beating the defending champs in front of a sellout crowd, the Fire host the Colorado Rapids. CSN+ has the live coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The Fire’s undefeated home record will be on the line against a Rapids team which is 0-4 on the road. Colorado is coming off its second win of the season, a 3-0 win against San Jose which snapped a five-game losing streak. Colorado (2-6-1, 7 points) enters with the lowest point total in the league.

“Colorado is in need of points,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “Defensively they are tough and also have experienced players and players in attack who can be decisive.”

The Rapids have given up 12 goals, fifth fewest in the league, but have scored just eight, fewest in the league.

The Fire (4-3-3, 15 points) have lost to Colorado the last two seasons.

“They have some good players, really quality players, strong,” winger David Accam said. “They will give us a tough game. I remember playing them here my first year and we lost. I don’t want to lose them again.”

The game continues the Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days. The Fire started the stretch with a win against Seattle and will continue it at D.C. United on Saturday. The finale is a home match against Dallas the following Thursday.

The short rest and future tight schedule could call for more squad rotation and will test the team’s depth. Goalkeeper Jorge Bava is still out with a head injury that kept him out Saturday as well and Michael Harrington is listed as questionable due to illness. Juninho, who missed the Seattle game with a sprained ankle, is not listed on the injury report and could return to the lineup.

“We now have the stretch of four games in two weeks where we have to give some guys some rest,” Paunovic said after the Seattle match. “Other guys we have to push them until we have that small break that we will have after the game against Dallas.”

This will also be a chance to find out how fit Bastian Schweinsteiger is. The 32-year-old German midfielder has started every match since joining the Fire, but even admitted a few weeks ago that he was playing at 70 percent fitness. Will he be able to start all four matches in this stretch?

“I’d love to play every single second so I hope I can play every minute,” Schweinsteiger said last week. “I am actually looking forward (to it). I love to play games. I mean training sessions are always good, but I think every player likes to play games and matches and that’s why I am actually happy about it.”

Paunovic didn’t give anything away in regards to Schweinsteiger’s playing time during this busy period.

Either way, the Fire will be expected to win against the Rapids, something which hasn’t been true often for the Fire in recent years. The Fire are 4-0-1 at home and playing the team at the bottom of the MLS standings.

“We want to win every home game,” Accam said. “We want to win every game, but when you lose at home you lose your pride and I don’t want to lose my pride. We need every game at home. It’s huge for us.”

Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+

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

Records: Fire (4-3-3, 15 points), Rapids (2-6-1, 7 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.