Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Patrick Doody's breakout game and Juninho's controversial goal

Notes from the rewatch: Patrick Doody's breakout game and Juninho's controversial goal

Brandon Vincent has been lauded for what he has given the Chicago Fire's attack this season, but it took Patrick Doody to surpass his assist production from left back.

Doody had three assists in Saturday's win against New England to go with one assist he had in his first appearance the previous week in Kansas City. Vincent has one goal and three assists this season. Here's a look at Doody's big game and what he gives the Fire as opposed to Vincent and the controversy on Juninho's go-ahead goal late in the first half.

Patrick Doody's breakout game

Patrick Doody's first game in a year and a half had its ups and downs. He assisted on David Accam's goal in the second half in Kansas City, but he also got burned by Graham Zusi on KC's second goal. His second game of the season was more about the positive with three assists and cleaner defending.

Doody's first assist, Juninho’s goal, was a fairly simple pass from Doody. He picked his head up and saw Schweinsteiger. Passing to Schweinsteiger is rarely a bad option. Schweinsteiger saw one better and dummied the ball through for Juninho.

The second assist, Michael de Leeuw’s header, is a highlight reel caliber cross from Doody. Coach Veljko Paunovic referred to it as a “curveball” after the game and it’s not hard to see why. The ball curled out of reach of the goalkeeper and had enough depth to go over the centerback’s attempted headed clearance.

What’s good to see from Doody on this play is that he took on his defender. Doody moved more centrally to provide Dax McCarty with a passing option. Center mid Scott Caldwell stepped up to defend Doody. To get back to the wing, Doody had to take a big touch wide. He had enough separation from Caldwell to put in the cross and de Leeuw did the rest.


The third assist showed more aggression from Doody. He pushed forward to get to the corner late in the game. The cross itself may have been more hopeful than directed, but Solignac did the work to turn it into an assist.

Doody probably isn't as good in possession or defensively as Vincent, but his crosses are better. Vincent has improved in virtually all aspects this season, but Doody is probably still the best crosser on the team. His quality service on the wing has been apparent in practice, but he has been able to show it off in games finally. Now that teams are going to be well aware of what Doody can produce from crossing areas, defenders will be marking him differently. Let's see if he can still produce.

Controversy on Juninho’s goal

Juninho scored what held up as the game-winner and it was his first goal with the Fire, but New England wasn’t happy with the goal. It wasn’t the goal itself, but a foul that happened 20 seconds before it.

David Accam had the ball on the left wing, took a heavy touch and ran into Revolution defender Andrew Farrell as Farrell cleared the ball away. The Revs wanted a foul called. The ref waved for Farrell to get up.

Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger picked up the loose ball from Farrell’s clearance and dribbled right back at New England’s defense. Farrell gets to his feet a few seconds before Schweinsteiger goes back to that side with a pass to Patrick Doody. Doody then sets up Juninho for the goal.

“I think the second goal, really, really hurt us because we just felt like there was a foul on the play,” New England coach Jay Heaps said after the match. “Other than that, it’s going up the other way, we get to halftime 1-1 and we can still regroup.”

In the new era of video review in MLS, this play is something that could have been reviewed. One of the vague terms the league has been using is “attacking phase of play.” Goals can be reviewed not just for something that was clearly missed by the ref on the shot or the assist, but if at any point there is an infraction in the “attacking phase of play.” In this case, you could argue that Schweinsteiger picking up the ball is the start of the attacking phase of play, therefore the possible foul on Accam may not have been reviewable. Even so, Paul Tenorio said on the broadcast that the video assistant referee did check the play, but did not call for further review.

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez calls for 'honest self-reflection' of American soccer

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USA TODAY

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez calls for 'honest self-reflection' of American soccer

American soccer is fresh off the crisis of missing the 2018 World Cup and there’s plenty of screaming and yelling about what should be changed and what needs fixing.

Everything from the leadership of the U.S. Soccer Federation, coach Bruce Arena, the players, Major League Soccer’s relationship with the national team to youth development is being questioned and criticised.

While MLS academies are still, relatively speaking, in their nascent stages (the Fire’s academy launched in 2007) and the fruits of their work are still being realized, the way players are developed in this country has come under fire. That makes a comment from Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez from September 2016, just over two months before the final round of World Cup qualifying began, seem all the more relevant now.

“We’ve had organized soccer through a federation since 1913 and don’t have a male player who in my opinion is of world-class stature,” Rodriguez said. “And I mean no offense to all the great players who’ve represented U.S. Soccer, but my definition of world-class means any team in the world would want them. So that suggests to me that we need to do something differently. I think that the time is right to interject a different perspective. So I think having different experiences, different backgrounds in education and in the formation of young players is really important.”

This was in reference to the Fire hiring a foreign academy director, Frenchman Cedric Cattenoy. In light of the U.S.’s qualifying failure and this comment from a year ago, I asked Rodriguez if he thought there was something wrong in the way players are developed in this country. He began by talking about the “very holistic approach” that the team is trying to implement, on and off the field, but then he said something that stood out.

“I do believe there’s a difference between soccer and football,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday. “Some of that difference is rooted in time and tradition. Some of it is in how it’s taught and interpreted and I want us to teach, speak and play football.”

At first glance, this may come off as somewhat pretentious. Rodriguez is perhaps being snobby about the “soccer” being played in America vs. the “football” being played in the rest of the world.

Here’s the thing: it is pretentious, but it’s not wrong.

For all of its growth in stadiums, attendance, revenue and overall player quality, MLS is still a ways behind the top leagues in the world. After watching both, it doesn’t take long to notice the difference. When the top teams in the top leagues play, the game is faster, sharper, more dynamic and more entertaining.

That’s not to say MLS isn’t an entertaining product, but it can’t match a Champions League match at a world-famous stadium in front of 60,000-plus fans. MLS’ goal should be to get to that level, or at least get close to that level, even if it takes decades. In the meantime, players should learn and be taught the game at its highest level.

With the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and the Champions League easily accessible on TV, young American soccer players can watch the game played at its highest level and idolize the game in that form. MLS is the more accessible avenue of the game, with the ability to attend a game in person and be part of a team’s academy being more available as the league continues to expand and academy setups become more comprehensive and sophisticated.

"What we need to do, all of us in the sport in America, is take a few moments of honest self-reflection and recommit to working in a more collaborative way instead of just trying to protect our little soccer fiefdom in our backyard and neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "(We need) all of us to work aligned so we can reach our goal, which is to get the men’s program at the standard and level of the women’s program, which is an Olympic champion and a world champion several times over."

Rodriguez wants the Fire’s academy and its players to “teach, speak and play football.” In a time when American soccer fans are feeling even more insecure than normal, it’s OK to embrace the pretentious nature of that statement. It’s for the best.

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”