Fire

Johan Kappelhof's MLS All-Star selection not the biggest thing to happen to him in the past week

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USA TODAY

Johan Kappelhof's MLS All-Star selection not the biggest thing to happen to him in the past week

Johan Kappelhof is having an eventful week.

The Chicago Fire defender got named to the MLS All-Star Team on Tuesday, but that wasn’t even close to the most important thing to happen to him in the past few days. While the Fire were still on break, Kappelhof got married on Saturday back home in Amsterdam.

“It was a special week for me,” Kappelhof said. “It was a stressful week, but it was a beautiful day. I’m happy that I’m a married man now and I’m back to play again.”

Kappelhof got 10 days off in total, taking advantage of a league-wide break for the group stage of the Gold Cup. With the hectic week behind him, Kappelhof is happy to return to normalcy, although he did joke that he now has to figure out if he should take his ring off or cover it when he plays.

“It feels good to be back, to do what I love to do, to play soccer,” Kappelhof said. “I’m used to that. I’m not used to getting married so this was a great day for me, but I’m happy to be back on the training pitch.”

Not long after returning to Chicago, Kappelhof got more good news. When he arrived to training Tuesday morning, Kappelhof received word that he was picked for the All-Star Game along with teammate Dax McCarty.

“It was a surprise for me,” Kappelhof said. “I’m very excited and very thankful for the coaching staff who elected me for the game. I will give everything to give that back to them.”

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is coaching the team and made 11 selections in addition to the Fan XI vote. Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger were included on the Fan XI. Kappelhof and McCarty joined as selections by Paunovic to give the Fire four picks, more than any other team.

“Dax and Johan will help us balance the team, be more competitive,” Paunovic said. “It’s obviously a great achievement for two of them, very happy for them, very happy also for our club where we are now. I think that this is the first time since a long time ago that we have four All-Star players, which is also another achievement.”

McCarty is the only Fire All-Star who has been selected before. He was also an All-Star in 2015.

David Accam was not included on the roster despite being top five in both goals scored and assists, the only player in the league who can make that claim. The full roster is available here.

The All-Star Game will take place at Soldier Field in Chicago. The MLS All-Stars will play Real Madrid on Aug. 2.

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.