Fire

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

If you build it, they will come.

The Chicago Fire have built a competitive and interesting team, full with a big name star in Bastian Schweinsteiger. So when the Fire played against the defending MLS Cup champs on one of the first nice Saturday nights of the spring, a big crowd came in the form of a sellout.

The announced crowd of 20,153 witnessed a 4-1 Fire win against the Seattle Sounders. It was the Fire’s first sellout since Sept. 19, 2015 when Kaka came to town with Orlando.

The three-goal victory was a good advertisement by the team to get some of these fans to come back. The players also noticed the boost it gave them on the field.

“It was a great atmosphere today at the stadium,” Schweinsteiger said. “As you could see it helped us. I hope for the next home match it’s going to be the same.”

Matt Polster, who made his season debut off the bench after missing the first two months of the season due to injury, is one of the team’s longest tenured players. He said he has not many crowds this good in his three years with the Fire.

“I think that was the best crowd in quite some time,” Polster said. “I think the fans are always good, but I think this was a different level tonight.

“It’s easy when the fans are chanting and they’re just cheering you on. I think that gives us an extra little bit of energy. I think it showed tonight in the result.”

The Fire have recently been looked at as one of the team’s lagging behind compared to other franchises in Major League Soccer. The on-field results have dipped (back-to-back last place finishes and one playoff appearance in the last seven years) and attendance has ranked in the bottom five each of the past four years.

That's not a good look for a team in the third biggest market in the country when more teams are drawing big crowds and the league’s average attendance has gone up each of the past four years. Saturday showed a step in the right direction, both in the stands and on the field with a 4-1 win.

“The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It’s not only one game. This is the general feeling that our team has in the locker room, outside of the locker room, when we are downtown in the city, wherever we are we can feel there is a passion about the team.”

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

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USA TODAY

Fire open offseason by sending Arturo Alvarez home

And they're off.

MLS Cup finished just last night with Toronto completing arguably the best season in league history, but the offseason doesn't wait long to get going. The Fire took advantage of Sunday's short trade window before Los Angeles FC's expansion draft takes place on Tuesday by trading Arturo Alvarez to the Houston Dynamo.

Alvarez, a Houston native, gets to go home and could finish his career with the Dynamo. The Fire received a second-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Alvarez, 32, made 55 regular season MLS appearances with the Fire in two years. He had five goals and nine assists in 2016, leading the team in assists. This past season he saw his minutes get nearly cut in half although he did regain a regular spot in the team towards the end of the season and finished with three goals and two assists.

“Arturo had perhaps his two best years wearing our red and we appreciate all that he gave to our club,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the team's statement. “We saw this as a chance to allow him to return home while opening up his minutes for some other players.”

The question is which players Rodriguez is referring to. Alvarez played primarily at right midfield, frequently cutting inside with his dangerous left foot. Two players come to mind as possible fill-ins already on the roster: Daniel Johnson and Brandt Bronico.

Johnson was the Fire's first-round pick in the 2017 draft and showed flashes of ability, but dealt with injuries through much of the season and made eight substitute appearances totaling 125 minutes. He is a wide player, but was the opposite of Alvarez, typically playing on the left and cutting in on his right foot.

Bronico was the 2017 third-round pick and made only four sub appearances adding up to 53 minutes played. With such limited action it was difficult to gauge whether he could be a wide midfielder or should be played centrally. Either way, with Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic out for the first few months of 2018 with ACL tears, both Johnson and Bronico will have opportunities the way the roster is currently constructed.

More news is due later today with the expansion draft set for Tuesday. The Fire will announce the 11 players they are protecting. Homegrown players (Drew Conner and Mihailovic) won't need to be protected. The Fire have 17 others players that will be eligible for the expansion draft.