Preview: Fire hope to get first road win against struggling LA on CSN

Preview: Fire hope to get first road win against struggling LA on CSN

So far the Chicago Fire are having the same troubles on the road this season.

The Fire are 0-3-1 on the road in 2017 and have lost the last three away from Toyota Park. There will be another chance to snap that streak Saturday on CSN when the Fire travel to take on the LA Galaxy. Coverage begins at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

This might be the best chance yet for the Fire (3-3-2, 11 points) to pick up a win on the road. The Galaxy (2-5-1, 7 points) are tied for the most losses in the league and have more home losses (3) than any other team.

Perennially, the Galaxy have been one of the premier teams in Major League Soccer, but shed some big players and coach Bruce Arena, now coaching the U.S. national team, in the offseason. Gone are designated players Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, regular starter on defense A.J. DeLaGarza and veteran depth Mike Magee, Alan Gordon, Jeff Larentowicz and Leonardo.

In have been American national teamer Jermaine Jones and European additions Romain Alessandrini and Joao Pedro. Jones and Pedro have been part of a midfield that hasn’t quite clicked yet while Alessandrini has been a bright spot with four goals and two assists.

“They have good quality, (but) they are struggling at this moment and we can take advantage of that,” Fire defender Johan Kappelhof said. “They didn’t win home games the last couple of games.

“I think we have a good chance, but we have to be aware of their quality up front.”

In addition to Alessandrini, the Galaxy feature Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes, another U.S. national teamer, in the attack. Zardes has yet to score in four games back from a knee injury.

Dos Santos is off to a slow start with one goal in seven starts. Last season the Mexican had 14 goals and 12 assists.

“He’s got quality, he’s got pace, he’s got a good shot,” Kappelhof said of Dos Santos. “We have to avoid his shots and have each other’s back at the back because of his pace and don’t give him the confidence to come in the game.”

The Galaxy have failed to score in the past two matches, both which came at home. The last of those was a scoreless draw against winless Philadelphia.

This is the last home game for LA before a four-game road trip, which Fire coach Veljko Paunovic thinks will make LA more desperate for a win against the Fire.

“I think it’s going to be very tough,” Paunovic said. “Their mindset is going to be to win this game no matter what, which propels the different energy and motivation on the team which can work both ways. If that converts to the pressure for them, that’s something that we should take advantage of.”

The Galaxy are struggling in general and the Fire have struggled on the road. Kappelhof thinks the Fire showed improvement in the 2-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls, which was a much more competitive game than the 3-1 loss at Toronto the previous week.

“I think we improved from the Toronto game,” Kappelhof said. “We did better. I think we deserved more points. We created some chances and we have to continue like this in away games.”

The game also marks the return to LA for Fire midfielder Juninho. Juninho was a part of the Galaxy's run of three MLS Cup titles in four years (2011, 2012, 2014) and played six seasons with the Galaxy.

The Fire enter the match with a relatively clean bill of health while the Galaxy will be without defender Robbie Rogers (left ankle), midfielder Sebastian Lletget (foot) and goalkeeper Clement Diop (hip).

Chicago Fire at LA Galaxy

Where: StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.


When: Coverage begins at 9 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (3-3-2, 11 points), Galaxy (2-5-1, 7 points)

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.