Notes from the rewatch: David Accam turns into playmaker against Red Bulls

Notes from the rewatch: David Accam turns into playmaker against Red Bulls

The Chicago Fire lost another game away from home on Saturday, but despite the result it wasn’t like so many of the other road defeats in coach Veljko Paunovic’s tenure.

The Fire had a slight edge in possession against the New York Red Bulls (51-49 percent), which is especially impressive considering the Red Bulls are one of the few teams in MLS which prioritizes possession. In addition, the Fire had more shots (14) and shots on target (6) than the Red Bulls, which had 10 shots and three on target.

Missed chances doomed the Fire to a second straight loss, but the Red Bulls missed some quality scoring opportunities as well. Here’s a look at those and a couple other things from Dax McCarty’s return to Red Bull Arena.

David Accam’s passing

Accam has been the focal point of the team’s attack for the past two years, but the addition of Nemanja Nikolic, along with Michael de Leeuw joining in the latter part of last season, has made the Fire’s attack more balanced.

The Fire can build through the midfield with the newcomers in that area as well, meaning Accam isn’t chasing down as many long balls and has needed to find other ways to contribute. Accam, often questioned about his decision-making and passing ability, has a pair of assists this season from quality passes and had even more of that in New Jersey.

Against the Red Bulls, Accam was credited with five key passes and could have easily had an assist or two from them. His through ball set up the Nikolic shot in the 30th minute that resulted in a shot on goal. Five minutes later he lofted a ball over the top to Luis Solignac, who was then free on the right wing. The Fire could have had a penalty when Solignac’s first effort hit the arm of a defender, but the chance probably should have been converted regardless.

Two more Accam crosses were completed in the second half that gave Nikolic and Solignac each an open chance in the box, but neither was put on frame.

Accam was the Fire’s best playmaker on Saturday, which is something different from the Ghanaian winger, but the Fire’s finishers didn’t reward him with any assists.

Missed chances

This is the area many Fire fans focused on after the loss. The Fire coulda, shoulda, woulda won this game with more clinical finishing.

This is definitely arguable. As mentioned above, Accam created most of those chances and they couldn’t finish those.

The Fire had at least four solid chances that either resulted in a missed shot or an easy save for Luis Robles.

When Nikolic cut back on a defender following Accam’s through ball in the 30th minute, he may have had a chance to square the ball to Solignac for an open shot. Nikolic did put a solid shot on target, but Robles was able to make the save.

There’s the Solignac chance in the 35th minute when he loses control of the ball before firing a last ditch shot that gets blocked.

Solignac and Nikolic each had open shots from Accam crosses in the second half, but didn’t make clean contact when they were open in the box. Solignac’s was especially tempting.

However, the Red Bulls had some missed opportunities as well. Before scoring the game-winning goal, Kemar Lawrence sliced an open shot from 12 yards out over the bar. Later, Tyler Adams ran onto a ball in the box and had time to set himself up for an open shot, but skied it. The best chance was when Fire goalkeeper Jorge Bava left a big rebound on a long shot from Sacha Kljestan and somehow Felipe couldn’t corral it to score into a mostly open net.

The point is, yes, the Fire could have scored more goals, but the Red Bulls also had some good chances they missed.

McCarty’s return to Red Bull Arena

In the buildup to Saturday’s game McCarty said he wanted to say goodbye to his former teammates and fans.

This isn’t really related to the game itself, but McCarty did take the time to say something to many Red Bulls players, even joking with Lawrence about the game-winning goal. He also spent time signing autographs and taking pictures with fans who stayed after the game. Things like this are why McCarty was popular with Red Bulls fans.

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.