Fire

How will the Fire respond after first setback in nearly two months?

How will the Fire respond after first setback in nearly two months?

The dejection was all over the faces of the Chicago Fire players and coaches after Wednesday’s loss in penalty kicks to FC Cincinnati.

Dejection is something many of them could be used to after how last year went. The Fire suffered many defeats last year en route to a second consecutive last place finish in MLS, but there was something different about this defeat.

This time there was disappointment because this team had gotten used to not losing. The Fire hadn’t lost in almost two months, a stretch of 10 games.

Coach Veljko Paunovic has talked ad nauseum about how he wants the team to forge a winning mentality. While that sounds like coach speak, perhaps in defeat the Fire showed that the mentality is here. A team that hadn’t lost in nearly two months was still crushed to see a defeat as well as losing out on one of the trophies available to win this season.

“Of course now what we have to do is adjust our goals,” Paunovic said after the match. “Now we have to move forward and we have to think about playoffs.”

The Fire had so many chances to score against FC Cincinnati, but couldn’t do so against wizard/goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt. That, plus 120 minutes of play added up to why the team was so physically and emotionally drained after the defeat.

“We all learn from this kind of loss,” midfielder Juninho said. “It’s tough to come here and say something, but our boys, I’m very proud of them. They did everything they could to get a result and tonight was not our night. Let’s focus on the next one.”

Paunovic was asked after the match what he learned about the team from that match. Initially he didn’t have much of an answer and said, “I’ll think about it and let you know.”

Thursday over the phone he did.

“We learned that the importance of that one play that we needed in the game, just one pass, one cross, one shot to be accurate in order to win the game,” Paunovic said. “Later it was just that. I can tell, yes, we lack of this, but if you think about the game, then you see that we had the opportunity here, we had the opportunity there. We missed just one play to be done from the start until the end with no interruption or mistakes.”

Paunovic said at halftime in Cincinnati, he and the team compared the match to the 0-0 tie at Orlando in early June when the Fire had a two-man advantage by the end of the match, but couldn’t break down a team focused on defending as its only objective.

“More and more teams will play the way Cincinnati played and the way Orlando played and we will have to learn together to break them down,” Paunovic said. “It all again goes to that one play.

“If we score that goal it would have been a completely different game. The crowd would shut down, we would shut down their defense, they would have to respond and then that’s the case that we were looking for.”

While the Fire will look for answers on how to break down teams that decide to bunker in defensively, the real interesting part will be how a team which was so hot can recover in just a few days. The Fire will get to return home and take on Vancouver on Saturday. The short rest after going to penalty kicks, coupled with the continued absences of David Accam and Dax McCarty, will test the Fire both physically and emotionally again.

Former Fire coach Bob Bradley was recently interviewed on the Beyond the Pitch podcast and had complimentary things to say about the Fire this year, but said this team needs tough tests.

“I do think they need to be tested more in more competitive games,” Bradley said. “I think that’s where you really find out how good they are.”

The Fire are on course to make the playoffs and have a good chance to make a deep run once there. Wednesday’s game was still fairly early in the U.S. Open Cup, but because of how big the game was to the hosts, it felt like a big game regardless.

The Fire’s next big game may not be played in front of more than 30,000 fans, but when it comes, maybe this loss in Cincinnati will be looked back at as one of those tests Bradley was referring to.

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

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.