Nelson Rodriguez says Gilberto is staying with the Fire, for now

Nelson Rodriguez says Gilberto is staying with the Fire, for now

It’s no secret Gilberto has struggled to score goals for the Chicago Fire this season.

The Brazilian forward hasn’t scored yet and was absent in the Fire’s last game before the Copa America break for “personal reasons.”

During a conference call with media on Monday, general manager Nelson Rodriguez addressed the rumors concerning what Gilberto’s absence against Portland on May 28 means for his future. The team took a week off from training during the past week and returned to practice on Monday.

“Over the course of the break, I checked in with Gilberto again,” Rodriguez said. “At that time he still indicated to me that he was not in a state of mind that was his best. He has left me to draw the conclusion that for the moment, we need to continue to try to work with him as a person.”

Whether this is simply a buildup of frustration over his or the team’s performance or is genuinely a personal matter that is affecting Gilberto was not made clear.

“We will work with Gilberto individually as we try to get him back into a form that can help us,” Rodriguez said. “Our preference has always been to be scoring goals for our team. That’s always been our preference. That’s something that I expressed to his agent not long ago. There’s a human side to this and a professional side to it. They get blurred a little bit in this situation as well.

“We’ll see what we can do to help Gilberto.”

Rodriguez does make it sound like a personal matter, but rumors have surfaced about a possible exit, either via transfer to another club or a buyout. For now, Rodriguez said there has been no contact with any teams in Gilberto’s native Brazil.

“Gilberto has from time-to-time expressed his desire to return to Brazil and play in Brazil,” Rodriguez said. “It’s unclear whether that’s now or at the end of his contract or in the future, but we have not spoken to any clubs in Brazil about Gilberto’s services.”

Gilberto is in Chicago as the team returns to training. The team plays an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday, which will also feature the Fire’s PDL team, and how much he participates in that could be an indication of how close he is or is not to returning to game action.

His absence in the short-term would at the very least hurt the forward depth for the Fire, which is already thin in terms of sheer numbers. Michael de Leeuw is expected to join the team in training later this week, but isn’t eligible to play until July 9.

“I would just say we move on when we can,” coach Veljko Paunovic said regarding Gilberto’s absence. “We have guys who can perform.”

Rodriguez did leave an opening, if only in a roundabout way, to a potential Gilberto exit when asked if the team had explored trying to buy out his contract. Gilberto is one of 23 players in Major League Soccer who makes more than $1 million annually according to the MLS Players Union.

“We’ve not had that discussion with Gilberto or his representatives,” Rodriguez said. “Every option always has to be on the table. At some point if we can’t get him to be productive and scoring goals for us, we have to look at anything that is available to us or that we create for ourselves.”

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.