Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Trying to contain Sebastian Giovinco

Notes from the rewatch: Trying to contain Sebastian Giovinco

The Chicago Fire started a three-game road trip on Friday and it was yet another loss away from Toyota Park.

The loss at Toronto wasn't a shameful result because Toronto is one of the most talented teams in the league and has a former league MVP leading the way. Sebastian Giovinco torched the Fire for two goals and was upset he didn't get a third. Here's a look at Giovinco's game against the Fire and a couple other observations from the 16th road loss in 20 road matches for coach Veljko Paunovic.

Trying to contain Giovinco

The 2015 MLS MVP scored a pair of goals against the Fire and had chances for more. Heck, he was even angry when he got subbed out a couple minutes after scoring his second goal.

The Italian had 11 shots and six on target. As a team, the Fire had nine shots and one on target. Whatever the gameplan was on defending Giovinco, it didn't work. Those numbers are too much to allow and not expect him to score a goal or two.

Giovinco is so hard to defend because he can beat you with a powerful shot if you don't close him down, as happened on the first goal, and he can get by you with his quickness if you get too tight on him. He forced Michael Harrington into that tough choice on the first goal. Giovinco didn't move much in the lead up to the goal, but was allowed to receive the ball with a bit of space and was quick to turn and score with a hard right-footed shot.

Patience in midfield

The Fire's midfield has been revamped from a year ago with three quality players in central midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho all are solid passers. Having three players like this is very different from last year when the Fire were last in the league in time in possession.

Maybe the team needs some time to adjust to being able to play a different style, but this shouldn't be a long ball team like it was last year. The Fire can sit on the ball, be patient and control the tempo of the game. This is especially true when speedy winger David Accam doesn't start and also against a team like Toronto, which doesn't press high.

Without Accam in the lineup, the Fire don't have enough speed or technically adept players to play at pace. Forwards Nemanja Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw are best at finding space in the box and poaching goals, and a more deliberate buildup would play into that better.

Early on against Toronto, the Fire seemed to rush things and played at a higher tempo than necessary, which played into Toronto's hands. Only towards the end of the first half, after TFC led 2-0, did the Fire slow things down. There was a 19-pass sequence in the 41st minute with most of the passes coming in Toronto's half. The end result was a Juninho cross that was headed out for a corner kick. The Fire have shown at various times this season the ability to string passes together for extended periods. If the Fire had displayed that patience more consistently early on, they might not have been in a two-goal hole.

Check out this interaction with Schweinsteiger signaling to McCarty to play it wide to keep the ball. McCarty passes it forward and turns it over while Schweinsteiger looks up in frustration. Schweinsteiger was encouraging the route that wasn't going to lead to a chance, but would keep the Fire on the ball.

"Strange game"

After the match, Schweinsteiger called it a "strange game." Schweinsteiger's first road game may have been a bit of a "Welcome to MLS" moment for the German.

This isn't the pristine, manicured, high-profile game that Bayern Munich, the German national team and Manchester United play. This is MLS, where parity reigns and no team is as dominant as any of the three teams Schweinsteiger has played for.

Beyond that, MLS teams don't dominant games like Bayern or Man U strive to do. Toronto had a slight edge in possession early, but once the Reds went up two goals, they let the Fire control possession. This is something Schweinsteiger will have to get used to.

The Fire also weren't happy with either of the calls that led to the set pieces that Toronto scored on. Michael de Leeuw wanted a foul to go the other way in the 31st minute. Giovinco's ensuing free kick forced a corner kick and Toronto scored on that corner. Then in the 81st minute every Fire player in the vicinity was upset with the foul that went against Johan Kappelhof and led to Giovinco's free kick goal.

There's also the handball that got called in the 72nd minute against Justin Morrow, but was incorrectly called outside the box for a free kick. The Fire didn't have a shot on goal yet and were down two goals so a penalty kick probably wouldn't have turned things around, but would have made it more interesting down the stretch.

Welcome to MLS, Bastian. It sure can be strange.

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.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.