Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win


During the Chicago Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days, FC Dallas had the best record out of the four opponents by a wide margin.

However, when Dallas came to Toyota Park on Thursday, the lineup that took the field was not the typical FCD squad. Dallas rotated many starters in advance of Sunday’s game against Houston (which ended a 0-0 draw).

Still, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty thought Dallas still provided tough opposition.

“This was the hardest game we played in this four-game stretch by far,” McCarty said after the game. “They’re a really well-coached team, they’re organized, they’re tough to break down, they have the best defensive record in the league for a reason. I don’t care if they rotated players, that was a really good team.”

Dallas proved to be a tough defensive team after a wild first 10 minutes that featured three goals. The game slowed and the Fire limited Dallas’ attack the rest of the way with McCarty and his central midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, keying the 2-1 win.

McCarty, Schweinsteiger key Fire midfield

The headline for this section is obvious and probably something that can be said every match, but both McCarty and Schweinsteiger had good showings on Thursday.

The duo had the most touches in the match (Schweinsteiger with 105, McCarty with 93) and both completed passes at a high rate (Schweinsteiger 87 percent, McCarty 86 percent). Dallas isn’t a team built around keeping possession (FCD is actually towards the bottom of the league in possession), but the Fire held the edge even with Dallas chasing the Fire’s lead for more than 80 minutes.

Schweinsteiger had a game-high 12 ball recoveries, including two past midfield, won four tackles and had two interceptions, both in the attacking half. McCarty had five ball recoveries, but more impressively won three tackles past midfield. The Fire's ability to press and win the ball higher up the field was on display in this match and these two were at the heart of that.

McCarty's highlight came on a play when both centerbacks made mistakes that took them out of the play. A few minutes before halftime Johan Kappelhof dribbled forward, but lost control and turned it over. Joao Meira wildly slid to stop the ball, but missed badly. That left the Fire scrambling, but McCarty saw it the whole way and was able to recover to block a cross and only concede a corner kick.

The clip below starts just after Kappelhof's turnover:

Matt Hedges was very good

The Fire scored two early goals, but didn’t generate much in the way of chances after that. A big reason why was Dallas centerback Matt Hedges.

Hedges won plenty of aerial duels and also had the speed to keep up with David Accam in 1v1 spots on a few occasions.

The Fire had just three shots on target, not counting Nemanja Nikolic’s saved penalty in added time, the entire match. That’s not a good output, especially when considering two of those came in the first 10 minutes.

Hedges was credited with eight ball recoveries (the most on Dallas and second only to Schweinsteiger’s 12 for the match), four interceptions, four clearances and a pair of tackles won.

The 6-foot-5 centerback was just called in to the latest national team roster and this performance was a good example of why.

Fire hold on for close win

The Fire led this game for the final 81 minutes and did so without Dallas getting a shot on target after Roland Lamah’s early goal.

Previous Fire teams developed a reputation for blowing these kinds of games. This year’s team held on without much drama.

Even if Dallas was without much of its best attacking talent, the Fire limited Dallas to just the one shot on target (Lamah’s goal in the sixth minute). Dallas was chasing the game for 80 minutes and couldn’t even test Matt Lampson.

In the final 20 minutes Dallas had three free kicks that went into the box and a corner kick. Nothing came from those and there wasn’t anything from the run of play other than three crosses into the box that were cleared without drama.

The insurance goal never came, but the Fire did have the best chances in the final minutes. Juninho had a hard shot on target in the 89th minute and Nikolic had a penalty kick in added time. The Fire also had a majority of the possession in the final 10 minutes.

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.