Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Sloppy play leads to Fire loss

Notes from the rewatch: Sloppy play leads to Fire loss

The Chicago Fire entered Saturday's match in Columbus with a number of minor injury concerns and players who missed training time during the week.

The only one who didn't end up playing was Juninho, but the Fire showed signs of fatigue towards the end of the game. The Crew scored twice in the final 20 minutes and could have had more if they were more efficient in front of goal.

On top of that, sloppy mistakes killed the Fire in Ohio. All three Columbus goals were a direct result of turnovers by the Fire.

The Fire's sloppy play

After the loss, Michael de Leeuw had a pair of quotes which summed up why the Fire lost:

"I think we played well in certain parts of the game but most of all we were very sloppy. I think we had 20 unforced errors and at the end, the goals came from that, also the third goal was a mistake for me."

"We have to play better when we play possession. Just hold the ball and not make stupid mistakes beacuse Columbus profited big because of that."

Dax McCarty uncharacteristically had a pair of passes in the Fire's defensive half that were intercepted inside the first dozen minutes. Johan Kappelhof had a back header towards Matt Lampson that Artur got in the way of and had a free header on goal as a result in the fifth minute. That apparently was a sign of things to come.

Matt Polster had a pass intercepted in his own half, which led to Columbus playing in transition and scoring the first goal. The goal itself was a bit lucky with Artur's long shot being deflected right into the path of a wide open Kekuta Manneh in front of goal, but Artur's chance came from the turnover.

In the second half, Polster again was involved in a Columbus goal. His pass at midfield was intercepted, but his killer mistake was pressing the ball soon after and not winning it.

With Polster pressing, he left Columbus' left wing free to attack. That caused a chain reaction in the Fire's defense. Kappelhof had to move from his central position to close down Waylon Francis with the ball on the wing. Joao Meira slid a bit more towards the right to cover Kappelhof and mark striker Ola Kamara. Patrick Doody, the left back playing higher up the field than Kappelhof and Meira, had to track back to mark Justin Meram. Doody couldn't make up enough ground on Meram and he scored the goal.

The clip below starts right as Polster is stepping forward to pressure the ball after his turnover and fouls Cristian Martinez. To add insult to injury, Polster gets a yellow card for the foul on Martinez, a challenge he probably shouldn't have tried to make in the first place.

The third Crew goal, as de Leeuw admitted, was a result of his back pass that was intercepted. The turnover led to a breakaway for Kamara, which led to a penalty kick.

The Fire were able to win the possession battle on the road against a team in Columbus which is one of a handful of MLS teams that regularly try to hold a majority of the possession. That is a good sign that the Fire can impose their will on the game and control the tempo against even good possession teams. However, the Fire's numerous turnovers and inability to cover in transition was costly.

Lack of central attack

Nemanja Nikolic is one of the best finishers in MLS. That's why he has 16 goals so far this season.

However, he has not shown a regular ability to create his own chances. He is great at finding ways to get open near the goal, being in the right place at the right time and being efficient with the chances he gets. He is not great at much else.

So when Nikolic isn't scoring, and he hasn't in five matches, it's at least partially due to the lack of chances the team is creating for him. Nikolic hadn't gone more than two matches without scoring and hadn't gone consecutives games without scoring since Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived before this drought.

Teams are starting to learn the Fire's weakness in attack, which is to clog the central areas and force them wide. New England did that last week and Patrick Doody burned them with three assists. If Doody or Polster aren't going to create chances, the Fire's attack is suddenly in trouble.

Check out this chart, courtesy MLSsoccer.com, of the Fire's key passes, passes which led to shots. McCarty's assist is in blue. Passes were taken from the player's number and were received at the arrows.

Passes that led to Fire shots came from a corner, three crosses, two passes far from the goal, two backwards passes from outside the box and McCarty's chip into the box from distance, which was similar to a cross.

For comparison, check out the Crew's key passes. There are more forward passes from advanced central areas. Even the backward pass from Kamara (No. 11) comes from well inside the box.

This has become the Fire's weakness as more teams have seen how to successfully defend the Fire. Not every team in MLS can defend well enough to stop the Fire, even if they successfully force them wide. New England is a perfect example. The Revolution limited central chances but still gave up four goals to the Fire. The better defensive teams can pull it off though and it's up to Veljko Paunovic to find a way to adjust.

With all this said, everything could have been very different had de Leeuw buried this chance to tie the match in the 79th minute.

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

accam-traded.jpg
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

lampson-traded.jpg
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.”