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Notes from the rewatch: Fire under siege in Atlanta

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: Fire under siege in Atlanta

Saturday's 4-0 loss in Atlanta was the first setback in the young season for the Chicago Fire.

The first loss of the season came as a result of a nigthmarish first 11 minutes which left the Fire almost no way to come back. It wasn't just Johan Kappelhof's early red card that doomed the Fire though, things were already looking grim beforehand.

Here's a look at the 11 minutes of 11v11 from the match and other observations from after the Fire were down a man.

Evaluating things before the red card

It's hard to evaluate the Fire's performance considering they went down a man so early in the match. However, the symptoms of a bad loss were already showing in the first 10 minutes despite the Fire having a couple decent chances in the first several minutes.

In the second minute, the Fire showed a quick counter, which was probably the gameplan going in on the road against a possession-oriented team like Atlanta. Michael Harrington intercepted a switch pass with a header. The header landed with Dax McCarty. McCarty found Arturo Alvarez, who turned it over, but Atlanta gave it right back to David Accam. Accam mishit the shot and it went harmlessly wide. It was a sloppy play from both teams, but it showed the Fire's intent to be dangerous on the counter.

Two minutes later Atlanta went on top with a pair of slightly unlucky breaks for the Fire. Atlanta is cycling possession around the back until pushing forward with a pass to Yamil Asad. Asad takes a heavy touch and Alvarez and McCarty swarm him to try to force the turnover. They are unable to win it cleanly and Josef Martinez steps in to redirect the ball into the path of Hector Villalba. Seconds after nearly forcing a turnover, the Fire are now scrambling defensively.

Villalba feeds Julian Gressel wide right and his low cross ricochets off Brandon Vincent and into the net. Atlanta was quicker to a loose ball and was able to quickly get the ball in the penalty box. After that, it's just an unlucky deflection.

Arturo Alvarez did have a chance a few minutes after the goal by cutting onto his left foot, what else, but the shot is an easy save for Alec Kann.

Then Atlanta kicked in its possession dominance. A 26-pass sequence led to a Michael Harrington foul in Atlanta's defensive half. The Fire were already chasing and struggling to get on the ball, even before going down a man.

The red card itself comes from an intercepted Michael Harrington throw in. Atlanta is off to the races at that point and Johan Kappelhof is sent off, which practically ended the game at that moment.

It's easy to point to the red card when explaining Atlanta's mind-blowing possession numbers (83 percent for the match), but the hosts actually had 87 percent of the possession in the first 10 minutes of the match. The Fire may have planned to weather an early storm and then try to work their way into the match with counters or more aggressive pressing, but they were already down a goal and couldn't get on the ball. The red card may have ended the Fire's chances of coming back, but it wasn't looking good before it either, even considering the goal involved a bit of luck.

Jonathan Campbell's first action of 2017

Campbell probably had the toughest season debut possible. Sub into a match after just 15 minutes in front of a sold out, hostile crowd when your team is already down a goal and a man. On top of that Atlanta forward Josef Martinez has superb movement, forcing the centerbacks to constantly stay on their toes.

Campbell had an impressive rookie season and led the Fire in minutes. Coach Veljko Paunovic said he has a possible future with the national team. However, Campbell didn't play in either of the Fire's first two matches this season. Kappelhof's red card thrust him into a tough situation and will require him to start against Montreal in the Fire's next match.

He made some nice plays beforehand, but was involved in Atlanta's second and third goals. Campbell headed a clearance from goalkeeper Alec Kann that went right into the path of Miguel Almiron. Almiron then threaded a nice pass to Josef Martinez. Campbell's errant header started Atlanta's break and he couldn't keep up with Martinez after that.

The video below starts just as Almiron controls Campbell's header.

Then on Atlanta's third goal, Campbell denies a Greg Garza cross headed for Martinez. Campbell had position and was able to stay in front of his man. However, the clearance went up the middle in the box and Hector Villalba hammered it home.

It wasn't a great outing, but assuming he starts against Montreal that would be a better judge to see where Campbell is in his second year.

Jorge Bava's distribution

Whenever a team signs a South American goalkeeper, the stereotype is that he is good with his feet and in distribution. In the case of the Uruguayan Bava, it was magnified because of Paunovic's desire to play out of the back and general manager Nelson Rodriguez's comment this preseason that Bava's skillset was rare among domestically based goalkeepers.

So how is Bava doing?

In the season opener at Columbus he had a pair of turnovers on distribution, one of which led to a chance on goal. The following week he was clean against Real Salt Lake. He came off his line on a couple occasions when needed, he caught all the crosses he was supposed to and his distribution was solid.

In Atlanta Bava made both some impressive throws and long kicks and had more dangerous turnovers.

For starters, Bava's yellow card in the 18th minute had a bit of a comedic element to it. Bava came out to punch away a long ball in the corner of the box. He dribbled the ball out of bounds after hesitation and then gets a yellow for running away with the ball so he can get back in position. He could have just blasted the ball 40 rows up, but for whatever reason he didn't. Ultimately no harm, no foul other than an unnecessary yellow card.

A few minutes later was a sequence that encapsulated what Bava's distribution has been like with the Fire. He turned the ball over on a goal kick, but after he reclaimed the ball from the ensuing attack he hit a nice long punt that found Nemanja Nikolic (who made an impressive one-touch trap) past midfield. Later in the half he heaved a throw past midfield that Nikolic was able to run onto.

To cap it off, in the 90th minute he came out of his box to intercept a ball over the top. He then missed the 10-yard pass aimed for McCarty.

Bava has shown the standout long kicks and throws that Paunovic seems to be looking for, but has also made mistakes on some of the simpler plays. None have led to goals yet, but that's something he will need to clean up.

To close, here's an impressive view of Josef Martinez's fourth goal from Saturday:

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

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After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

Due to an early playoff exit, the players of the 2017 Chicago Fire have begun to disperse around the country to see family and friends back home during the offseason.

It’s not hard to make an argument that injuries played a significant part in the team’s playoff defeat. Michael de Leeuw went down on Sept. 30 with a torn ACL, Bastian Schweinsteiger played only 19 minutes in the last seven games of the season and Juninho wasn’t quite back to 100 percent when the playoffs rolled around. De Leeuw’s absence especially seemed to change the way the team played.

“Michael is loved by everyone in the locker room,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That’s off the field, but on the field he also put his best always. His quality, his mentality, character, leadership. He’s a winner, he wanted to win. That piece maybe we missed.”

More than five weeks after suffering the knee injury against New York City FC on Sept. 30, de Leeuw had his surgery on Thursday morning. Teenager Djordje Mihailovic suffered an ACL tear in the playoff loss nearly a full month after de Leeuw’s, but still had his surgery a week before the Dutchman.

“It was also my MCL,” de Leeuw said the day before his surgery. “It was a little bit sprained so that’s why they had to wait a little bit longer. Djordje only had his ACL, that’s why he already got surgery. When I saw he already got surgery I was like ‘S***, when is my turn? When can I go to the table?’ My knee is fine. It was a couple weeks longer, but it’s good now. It’s calm.”

De Leeuw said he was “a little bit” nervous going into the surgery because it was his first surgery. He had already been building his muscles, specifically quad strength, in advance of the procedure. The 31-year-old, who shared the team lead in assists with eight, will stay in Chicago for the rehab process.

He is under contract through 2018 with a club option for 2019. When asked about his long-term future, de Leeuw is confident he can return to 100 percent next season.

“I know my body,” he said. “I will be back for sure and I will be back stronger because I can do a lot of stuff in the gym now. That’s one thing I’m sure about. I will be back and I will be back stronger.

“I’m not done with the club and things I want to do here and accomplish here.”

[RELATED: Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason]

His, and Mihailovic’s, absence for the first part of 2018 will also have an impact on how the Fire approach this offseason. De Leeuw established himself as a regular starter and Mihailovic was starting to become a regular in the lineup towards the end of the year, especially after de Leeuw’s injury.

“We, for a while, had believed we had good depth, we had emerging talent on the attacking side,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “We could maybe disproportionately focus our attention in other areas, other lines of play, but we have to be realistic. They each could miss a large portion of the season so we have to reconsider our initial thoughts and revise our plan a little bit. For sure now, I think we’ll need to look to add some attacking piece because that’s a lot of minutes that we planned on that will need to be filled.”