Fire

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

It's not often that teams win games in MLS by four goals, especially when a red card wasn't involved.

After the Chicago Fire couldn't score one goal against Orlando when the Lions went down to nine men for more than a quarter of the match earlier this month, the Fire put up a four spot against Orlando at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire were dominant in every aspect of the game.

David Accam had one of his best games for the Fire and the team had arguably its best performance of the season.

It takes two for a blowout in MLS

There have been 10 games in MLS this season decided by four goals or more. Out of that group, two of those involved red cards (including the Fire's 4-0 loss at Atlanta in March) and two of those were Minnesota's first two games as an MLS team when it was thought they could be the worst team in league history. Blowouts happen in MLS, but the relatively balanced play in the league means both the winning team had to be very good and the losing team had to be very bad.

The Fire may have had its best performance of the season. Nemanja Nikolic said the team was near perfect after the match (in the video above).

Meanwhile, Orlando was without its leading scorer (Cyle Larin) and was coming off a game Wednesday halfway across the country in Seattle. Those factors, plus an overall lethargic showing from Orlando (coach Jason Kreis said his team "didn't have enough energy" at the start of the match) made the Lions susceptible to the beatdown they received.

The expected goals didn't lie

Soccer analytics are still nascent, but expected goals is one of the stats getting more attention. Expected goals (click here for the longer, better explanation) track the position of all shots taken in a match and quantify the likelihood of that shot going in. Shots from close are more likely to score so they are worth more expected goals. Each shot's percentage of scoring is added to produce the team's expected goals total.

Often in blowouts, the winning team's expected goals total is lower than the actual goal total because in order to score a large number of goals it probably took a couple low-percentage shots scoring. Teams don't typically create several high-percentage scoring chances in a match. It takes a screamer from distance or a goalkeeper flub to get a high goal total, and the expected goal total won't go up with that as a result.

However, the Fire's expected goal total from Saturday was actually above four. Including the penalty kick, the Fire's expected goal total finished at 4.26, one of the highest totals in the league this year. Meanwhile, Orlando had a miniscule .16 from three long-distance shots.

The Fire scored two goals early and kept creating chances. Nikolic was denied on a close-range volley in the first half and missed an open shot in the second half or else he could have scored more than the one goal.

Without going deeper into the stats, the takeaway is that this game was a blowout, was always going to be a blowout and didn't require particularly efficient finishing from the Fire to be a blowout.

Accam: "I thought I could do anything on the pitch"

Accam's hat trick got the headlines, but he also had an assist on Nikolic's goal. On the assist he showed something he hasn't done often. Look where Accam received the ball on that play:

This is Accam as a playmaking attacking midfielder for one play. He received the ball just past midfield off a turnover, but it wasn’t a classic counter. Orlando had five players behind the ball and he had two Fire players, Nikolic and Luis Solignac, in front of him. He turned, put a move on Antonio Nocerino to give himself the space to set up Nikolic, made the pass and Nikolic finished with his first touch.

Accam's first goal was about positioning. He found a way to get open in the six-yard box, and the backheel was just the exclamation mark to finish the play. His second goal was classic Accam getting behind a defense and being almost too patient to shoot before scoring into an open net.

He showed a little bit of everything Saturday.

Michael de Leeuw tracking Kaka

Just watch Michael de Leeuw, a natural forward, recognize Kaka running into open space and then cut him off and intercept a pass intended for the Brazilian.

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.