Fire

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

The Fire have been doing a lot of losing lately, but Saturday's loss to Minnesota was another level of disappointment.

Considering the match was at Toyota Park and Minnesota was winless on the road, the Fire's 2-1 defeat was almost undoubtedly the worst result of the season.

There isn't much new to say about the game either. The Fire made defensive lapses that have occurred more frequently of late and struggled to score against a team willing to defend deep in its own zone.

Djordje Mihailovic made his second start, Bastian Schweinsteiger tried to be more influential and the Fire's second-half rally ended up not being much of a rally. Here's a look at all three of those things.

Mihailovic's second start

In Mihailovic's first start in Montreal, he seemed to have a hard time getting involved. He drifted around the midfield without finding a consistent purpose or role within the attack. While the 18-year-old still wasn't a focal point in his 45 minutes on the field against the Loons, Mihailovic was more active.

He was credited with three shots, all of which were blocked. Only Nemanja Nikolic tallied as many shots for the Fire in the first half.

There were a pair of occasions when Mihailovic went down looking for a foul, but could have fought through and maybe had another chance. Namely in the 11th minute, Mihailovic had a shot blocked but was able to win it back by continuing to pressure the ball. He then played a 1-2 with David Accam at the edge of the box, but went down just outside the box and didn't get the call.

The sequence showed good aggression by Mihailovic to get a shot off, his willingness to work hard defensively to win balls in advanced positions and his technical ability to play a 1-2 with Accam in tight space. However, the final product wasn't there.

By design, Mihailovic won't be a major part of the Fire's attack as long as Dax McCarty and Schweinsteiger are on the field. Everything goes through those two at first so Mihailovic has to work to get in positions to be more impactful. Mihailovic completed 21 of 25 passes and drifted all over the field to get on the ball.

Schweinsteiger's more attacking role

Given how the German superstar has been used more recently, it's easy to forget that when Schweinsteiger arrived in Chicago, coach Veljko Paunovic said he wanted to use Schweinsteiger as high up the field as possible. That lasted for a little while, but Schweinsteiger has dropped deeper and deeper the past few months, sometimes even being used as a sweeper.

Part of that more recently is likely due to injuries to Fire defenders. Schweinsteiger playing deeper can improve the organization of the defense while the personnel has been thrown into some chaos.

Against Toronto at times and throughout the match against Minnesota, Schweinsteiger played in a more attacking role than he has in a while. It wasn't due to the Fire trailing either. He was very active from the start of the match, completing all 11 of his passes in the first 10 minutes and starting a pair of attacks with quality passes.

Nearly two-thirds of Schweinsteiger's passes (40 of 62) were attempted from beyond midfield and he assisted on the Fire's only goal. He tended to drift to one side or the other while McCarty continued to sit deeper and patrol the middle.

Also of some note is that Schweinsteiger had two shots. After his laser last week against Toronto brought the Fire back into that match, he had a couple more cracks against Minnesota. The interesting part is that in his first five games with the Fire, Schweinsteiger totaled 12 shots. In the 17 games since, Schweinsteiger has combined for 11 shots.

Schweinsteiger doesn't need to be taking shots to make a difference in a match, but that stat is telling in how he has been used more recently.

The lack of a rally

It didn't take a second viewing to recognize the Fire struggled to put shots on target against Minnesota. The Fire had just four, and two of those came before Minnesota took the lead in the 36th minute.

Typically teams put more pressure on goal when losing, especially in cases like Saturday when the team chasing the game has a much better record and is at home. The Fire had nearly 58 percent of the possession and did total 20 shots, an impressive number, but few of those shots seemed likely to score.

"If it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games,” McCarty said after the match.

The Fire simply couldn't break down Minnesota's defense. The only goal came on a counter. The ball was near the Fire's endline and 12 seconds left it was in Minnesota's net after Schweinsteiger had sprung David Accam for the goal.

There's nothing wrong with scoring on counters, but it further shows the Fire's struggles in the last month or so to score through extended stretches of possession like the team was doing earlier in the year.

Even more concerning is that after Accam's goal, Minnesota actually had a majority of possession. Instead of showing nerves or a lack of confidence, the Loons were able to gain more control of the ball to run out the clock and limited the Fire's opportunities. The Fire's only shot after Accam got the score to 2-1 was Michael de Leeuw's impressive, if not desperate, bicycle attempt in the 89th minute.

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.