Notes from the rewatch: David Accam against a high defensive line and MIchael de Leeuw's little things

Notes from the rewatch: David Accam against a high defensive line and MIchael de Leeuw's little things

The Chicago Fire won a sixth straight game at Toyota Park on Saturday, beating Atlanta 2-0.

The consensus from the Fire was that it wasn't the prettiest game or performance, but the Fire made some adjustments to Atlanta's style. The Fire limited Atlanta's chances in possession despite giving the visitors most of the time on the ball, and were able to create chances on the counter by beating Atlanta's high defensive line.

Here's a look at how David Accam created those chances against the high line, and what happened after, and a deeper look at Michael de Leeuw's willingness to do the little things.

Playing against Atlanta’s high line

As expected, the Fire were unable to win the midfield battle against Atlanta. The visitors controlled possession throughout, but didn’t have the killer instinct in front of goal with the team’s top two scorers, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, coming off the bench.

Atlanta’s possession style also includes a high defensive line. Playing a high defensive line against a team featuring David Accam is a risky move, and it burned Atlanta.

Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense on a number of occasions. After have a majority of the possession in the last four matches and seven of the last nine, Saturday’s game showed the Fire have multiple ways to beat teams.

David Accam’s chances

Once Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense it was a bit of a mixed bag. The Ghanaian had four quality counterattack chances and only one of them led to a shot on goal. The one that did lead to a shot was the opening goal.

In the 24th minute he passed to Nemanja Nikolic in the box when it appeared he should have shot it himself, which was the first of some questionable decisions. Five minutes later, though, he got it right.

The goal was a bizarre sequence because it looked like the opportunity had passed once Atlanta’s defense recovered, but Accam did well to not force something and wound up with a very high percentage shot for Luis Solignac.

In the second half, Accam just missed connecting with Nikolic with a centering ball when the Hungarian couldn’t reach the pass after sliding for it. Accam could have played it earlier and let Nikolic do the heavy lifting in the finish. Instead Accam tried to do the work for him and give Nikolic a tap in. Nikolic wasn’t in position for the centering ball that Accam played.

In the final 10 minutes of the match Accam had another 2v2 situation with Nikolic. He tried to pass this one, but maybe could have been more aggressive off the dribble.

Other than the goal, it seemed no matter what Accam decided it wasn’t working. Still, he was able to create four quality chances and converted one. On another day, the Fire will need him to be more efficient, but the upside for the Fire is that he was in position to create those chances.

Michael de Leeuw getting credit for the little things

How does a forward win man of the match without a goal, an assist or even a shot on target? Michael de Leeuw showed how on Saturday.

The Dutch forward wasn’t involved in either Fire goal and didn’t have many scoring chances. However, he did a lot of dirty work.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and coach Veljko Paunovic both said it wasn’t a pretty performance from the Fire. In order to win a game without a pretty performance, players will have do the little things well.

De Leeuw did a lot of those little things and got some recognition for it.

After moving from an attacking role to more of a midfield role, including some time on the right side as opposed to his more familiar central position, de Leeuw has played better.

“It’s a different role and of course I have to adjust,” de Leeuw said after the match. “In the beginning I was not playing very well. I think I’m playing very well now.”

De Leeuw completed 15 out of 21 passes and none of them created chances, but he was credited with five ball recoveries, two clearances and an interception. It probably wasn’t a man of the match worthy performance, but perhaps it was along the lines of a lifetime achievement award from the voting fans who have appreciated the little things de Leeuw does.

He wasn't one of the four Fire players named to the MLS Team of the Week, a week which featured only three matches to pick that team from. Nikolic, Accam, Schweinsteiger and Joao Meira were given credit along with Paunovic as the coach.

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.