Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Michael de Leeuw's influential game and Vancouver's missed early chances

Notes from the rewatch: Michael de Leeuw's influential game and Vancouver's missed early chances

A lot of factors seemed to be going against the Chicago Fire when they faced Vancouver on Saturday, but it turned into another dominant home win.

The Fire were coming off a long game on turf midweek and were without two standout starters, David Accam and Dax McCarty. Despite that, Nemanja Nikolic returned to his goal-scoring ways and the Fire routed the Whitecaps.

Here’s a look at how Vancouver nearly changed the entire match with a pair of early chances, Michael de Leeuw’s big game and how the Fire have turned into a possession team.

Vancouver’s early chances

It didn’t take long for these plays to be forgotten considering what happened later in the first half, but Vancouver came close to taking an early lead twice in the opening 10 minutes.

A Cristian Techera free kick whizzed in front of goal without anyone connecting with it in just the second minute. In the sixth minute Christian Bolanos smacked a low shot from distance that beat Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson and slammed off the post.

These were early warning signs that the Fire may not be recovered from the long midweek game and loss in Cincinnati, but the game didn’t play out that way. Had the Whitecaps converted one of these early changes, things could have been very different.

Michael de Leeuw’s big game

The big story for the Dutch forward was that he finally scored on Saturday. Even without the goal, he once again was valuable in other ways.

He had a nice turn and through ball to Nikolic in the 11th minute, but Nikolic couldn’t control the ball. Seven minutes later the duo connected again and this time Nikolic finished. De Leeuw won a loose ball and gave it to Nikolic, who held off a defender and beat goalkeeper David Ousted.

The two forwards connected frequently on Saturday. De Leeuw nearly assisted Nikolic again to give him his hat trick in the 83rd minute, but Nikolic’s shot went inches wide of the post. When de Leeuw finally scored, it was Nikolic who gave him the assist as part of a give-and-go.

De Leeuw finished with four shots, three of which were on target. He admitted after the game that the one that wasn’t on target, an 80th minute effort where he cut onto his right foot and shanked a shot wide, should have been a goal.

Nikolic and de Leeuw showed good chemistry up top and if de Leeuw can start scoring now that he is on the board, this could be another way the Fire’s attack can hurt teams.

Fire control possession again

This isn’t specifically about Saturday’s match, but the Fire once again controlled possession. They did so without Dax McCarty playing in midfield and with Bastian Schweinsteiger getting subbed out late in the first half due to injury.

The Fire finished with 60.7 percent possession. It is the sixth time in the past eight matches that the Fire have had a majority of the possession.

The improvement in possession isn’t a surprise considering the additions of McCarty, Juninho and Schweinsteiger to central midfield, but considering how bad the Fire were in that area last year (dead last in the league averaging a 43 percent share of possession) it is still quite staggering. Vancouver is last in the league this year in possession so the Fire's dominance on Saturday lined up with what the teams have been doing lately.

Schweinsteiger highlight of the week

Finally, an obligatory gif of Schweinsteiger turning out of traffic with two players on him.

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

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USA TODAY

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

The dominoes continue to fall on the Fire's offseason, and seem to be doing so at an increasing pace.

After making two trades on draft day, the blockbuster move of the day broke after the first round completed. As first reported by Paul Tenorio and later announced at the draft, the Fire traded winger David Accam to Philadelphia for $300,000 in General Allocation Money and $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The $1.2 million total is among the biggest allocation money trades in league history.

The move will have major implications on 2018 due to Accam's production since joining the Fire in 2015, but also because it likely is a move to set up other moves. Accam had his best year with the Fire in 2017 with 14 goals and eight assists while only making 24 starts (30 appearances in total).

"David had three very strong years for us and as we move forward though, we thought this would help," general manager Nelson Rodriguez said after the draft.

However, he had voiced his displeasure about being left off the All-Star Game roster by coach Veljko Paunovic, saying he was "disappointed my coach ignored me." Accam seemed to be appeased when the Fire picked up his option for 2018 in August. With his contract situation somewhat more sorted out, it appeared Accam may still have a future with the Fire despite having previously stated a desire to return to Europe at some point in his career.

Despite that history, Rodriguez said the Fire did not initiate talks for the trade.

"David never asked to leave," Rodriguez said. "I think he was surprised by the trade, but you’d have to ask him. It came together over the past week while we were in Florida for the combine and Philadelphia for the draft. The Union was aggressive in its bid and its intention.”

Rodriguez admitted to interest in Accam both from abroad and within MLS in the past. He explained the timing of why the trade was made now and other offers were turned down in the past.

“This was the most attractive offer we had in this window," Rodriguez said. "Circumstances change. We’re different today than we were in August when there were some other offers from overseas clubs. We just felt that this was an opportunity for us to try to advance our championship program in a different way and we thought it was a fair deal for both parties.”

While the move is a big one for Philadelphia in getting a player like Accam, the Fire likely aren't done. This is typically not the type of move that is made without another move in mind. Juan Quintero rumors continue to float around with the Fire and Argentine club River Plate both being mentioned as possible landing places for the Colombian international who has scored at a World Cup.

With Accam leaving, the Fire have an open spot for a Designated Player. Nemanja Nikolic and the recently re-signed Bastian Schweinsteiger are the two DPs on the roster.

Fire deal goalkeeper Matt Lampson to complete draft day trade

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USA TODAY

Fire deal goalkeeper Matt Lampson to complete draft day trade

Draft day is never boring with Nelson Rodriguez in charge.

The Fire's general manager made two trades to get into the top 10 and one of them sent the starting goalkeeper for much of the 2017 season away to Minnesota. As part of a deal to land Jon Bakero, Matt Lampson went the other direction to the Loons.

The Fire sent $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money and $75,000 of General Allocation Money as well as the No. 15 pick. Lampson was announced later because he needed to be notified before it was made public.

The interesting thing about Lampson's inclusion in the trade is that the Fire had already sent a decent amount of value to Minnesota. D.C. United traded the No. 3 pick to Los Angeles FC for $100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM. Dallas gave $200,000 in GAM to Montreal for the No. 4 pick. The Fire sent $25,000 less in allocation money than the previous two picks went for but added the No. 15 pick and Lampson.

“That was a function of needing to close the deal to get Jon Bakero," Rodriguez said after the draft of Lampson's inclusion in the trade. "Minnesota values Matt and his ability and it was clear to us that we would not be able to complete the deal without his inclusion."

Lampson, initially a Columbus Crew homegrown player, signed with the Fire after trialing with the team in the preseason of 2016. Lampson made 11 starts in 2016, battling Sean Johnson for time between the posts. In 2017, he began the year as the backup to Jorge Bava but won the job and finished the year with 24 regular season starts and started the playoff defeat to the New York Red Bulls.

After Richard Sanchez, who made two starts in the latter part of 2017, was brought back and Jorge Bava exited, it appeared Lampson and Sanchez would be battling for the starting job in 2018. Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland, a second round pick last year, are the two goalkeepers on the roster currently.

"With only two signed goalkeepers, between Richard and Stefan, for sure, just in terms of numbers, we need to add a third," Rodriguez said. "We’ll continue to work through our scouting lists in that position and you also never know what will come available within the league that might be of interest. That position remains incomplete.”

Four goalkeepers were drafted in the first round on Friday, something Rodriguez pointed to which could create more options for the Fire to trade for at that position.

"That might create some competition and if it does there might be some goalkeepers who previously were unavailable and might become available who we would need to consider," Rodriguez said. "So the solution could come from within the league, the solution could come from Richard and Stefan, or we will have to add a third goalkeeper anyway for competition and numbers so we’ll see if it’s from outside.”