Fire

MLS All-Star game is a work in progress

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MLS All-Star game is a work in progress

The Major League Soccer All-Star Game has been a work in progress in the past, and that remains the case this year.

Fan balloting began Friday for the match pitting the MLS squad against UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea on July 25 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. MLS squad selection is a long, confusion process that started with media from around the league determining the top six players on each team.

For the Fire, that meant goalkeeper Sean Johnson, defender Gonzalo Segares, midfielders Sebastian Grazzini, Marco Pappa and Pavel Pardo and forward Dominic Oduro will be on the fans ballot.

Fans can vote through July 2, either through the MLS website or via text messaging or Twitter. Those votes will determine the designated All-Star First XI, with the players announced at the halftime of the Fires home match vs. the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 8.

That wont determine the whole team, though. Ex-Fire captain Peter Nowak, now the coach of the Philadelphia Union, is the coach of the MLS All-Stars this year. He will choose the game day roster and the starting lineup. MLS commissioner Don Garber will also have two picks for selection eligibility to be announced on July 25. The leagues players will also vote for their peers as part of the selection process.

In the end, 32 players will be designated as All-Stars, as per the leagues collective bargaining agreement with its players. Obviously, not all of them will be on the field against Chelsea. Of the Fire nominees, only Pappa has had a taste of All-Star activity. He was a starter in the 2010 match, a 5-2 loss to Manchester United in Houston.

MLS has tried a variety of formats for its version of All-Star weekend. In the leagues first two seasons, 1996 and 1997, teams were chosen by conference with the East meeting the West.

In 1998, when the Fire joined the league, the match pitted MLS players from the United States against those from the rest of the world. That was an interesting concept, but it didnt last long. It was back to East vs. West in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

The 2002 version pitted the MLS All-Stars against the U.S. national team, and just one MLS squad also participated the following year when the opponent was CD Guadalajara, the popular Mexican club known as Chivas.

After another try of East vs. West in 2004, the league opted for the present matchup of one MLS squad facing a notable international club Englands Fulham in 2005, Chelsea in 2006, Celtic FC of Scotland in 2007, Englands West Ham in 2008, Englands Everton in 2009 and Englands Manchester United in both 2010 and 2011.

The two matches with Man-U were the only matches the MLS squad lost during the seven-year run. The 4-2-1 mark compiled by the MLS squad in that period included a 1-0 victory over Chelsea before a sold-out crowd of 21,210 at Toyota Park in 2006. The game has been a sellout every year since 2005.

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.