Fire winger David Accam trying to 'be more of a creative player'

Fire winger David Accam trying to 'be more of a creative player'

David Accam has been most known for his speed since joining the Chicago Fire before the 2015 season.

The 26-year-old is one of the fastest players in Major League Soccer and has made some impressive highlights with that speed.

However, his game has come under fire for being somewhat one-dimensional. While the Ghanaian can still dribble by players, his touch hasn’t been as crisp this season and he has had trouble staying healthy since joining the Fire. In each of his first two seasons he missed 10 regular season games. A hip injury that Accam said is the same one he had last season has forced him to come off the bench twice in eight games in 2017.

Entering this season there was a question of how Accam would perform when the Fire’s attack wasn’t going to revolve around him. The addition of Nemanja Nikolic at forward, and a revamped midfield, meant the Fire would likely rely less on hitting long balls for Accam to use his speed to chase after.

Accam scored a goal in the season opener at Columbus that was a vintage Accam goal, using his quickness to create a chance. Since then he hasn’t been as dangerous in front of goal, both due to missed opportunities on his part and Nikolic (who has five goals) becoming the focal point in the penalty box.

“I think we have Niko and Michael de Leeuw who are really good finishers,” Accam said. “For me, at the moment it is good for me to just take it easy and try and create more chances for them.

“I want to score more goals, but I think I’m doing really well at trying to create more chances for them.”

Accam has a pair of assists this season and both have come from quality passes. He set up Bastian Schweinsteiger’s debut goal with a well-hit cross following a short corner and hit a perfectly weighted centering pass to Nikolic two weeks later.

Last Saturday at the New York Red Bulls, Accam was credited with five key passes, a statistic for passes that set up a scoring opportunity. That was more than any other player on the field and one fewer than the Red Bulls had as a team. On another day with better finishing, Accam could have had another assist or two.

After having two assists all season in 2015 and five last year, it appears Accam’s value as a creator has improved this year. Is this something he has put more emphasis on this season?

“I’m a forward player. I want to score goals, but I think at the moment the best thing is for me to just be more of a creative player and let the two players lead and just be behind them,” Accam said.

Accam said this isn’t a directive from the coaching staff.

“I think for me as a professional I know what is good for the team,” he said. “I’m trying to play more for the team so I just decided myself to do that more often.”

Coach Veljko Paunovic said this is nothing new from Accam’s game, but did say he has improved his work rate defensively, something that has been another knock on Accam's game in the past.

“He’s just alternating the roles that he can in a game,” Paunovic said. “Sometimes it’s assisting, sometimes it is him resolving the situation and scoring goals. He has that, he can do that. It’s helpful also for the team and the effort that he is doing because I think this year he is more engaged in a team’s efforts and organization defensively.”

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.