Notes from the rewatch: Luis Solignac on the wing

Notes from the rewatch: Luis Solignac on the wing

Playing with a man advantage for over an hour tends to put an asterisk on a result.

The Chicago Fire's 3-0 win against New England on Saturday came with the Revolution being shorthanded from the 27th minute on, which makes it tough to evaluate either team. However, there were still a few things that stood out, regardless of the number of players on the field.

Schweinsteiger's up and down first half

Bastian Schweinsteiger's debut was a clean performance filled with key passes and a goal. His second game was quieter, but still mostly mistake free. Against New England, the German made a number of mistakes early on, but they all went unpunished.

He had four turnovers inside the first 10 minutes. Schweinsteiger did settle down with a few nice passes and then eventually scored the goal right before halftime.

His first half ranged from this (facing his own goal):

To this:

Solignac as a winger

With David Accam nursing a hip injury, Luis Solignac got the start on the wing with him and Michael de Leeuw flanking striker Nemanja Nikolic. Neither Solignac nor de Leeuw are traditional wingers, but Solignac proved to be a pretty good fit for the position on Saturday.

He assisted Schweinsteiger's goal in the first half and had the key pass that led to Nikolic's first goal early in the second half. The Argentine was named to the MLS Team of the Week for his showing.

Solignac has speed and quickness, both key when playing as a winger. Solignac has typically played as more of a traditional striker in the past so it's no surprise that his service from the right wasn't flawless, but he did set up two goals. Solignac hasn't been an efficient finisher with the Fire, but he has speed, technical ability and is a decent passer. The wing may not be such a bad fit for him and gives coach Veljko Paunovic another wide option.

Playing against 10 men

The Fire are gradually becoming a team that can maintain possession. The additions of Dax McCarty and Juninho helped in that regard, but Schweinsteiger's addition made a big difference in the Fire's approach to possession and how to play with the ball.

When New England went down to 10 men the Fire displayed a dominance of possession, but didn't create a lot of chances at first. Schweinsteiger's goal was the first shot on target of the match and that came in the 45th minute.

The Fire may not have been particularly dangerous, but they were patient and that was rewarded. There was a 31-pass sequence that nearly led to a goal in the 20th minute, but Nikolic was correctly called offside.

The Revs sat a bit deeper down a man and put less pressure on the Fire's defenders when they had the ball. The Fire's two centerbacks, Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira, both had pass completion percentages above 95 percent. The Fire as a whole passed at a nearly 90 percent completion rate.

Yes, the Fire were up a man for over an hour, but the personnel has changed and the Fire's desire and ability to be patient in possession has changed drastically from a year ago.

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.