Fire

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.

TV: CSN

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

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

Even a win showed how injuries could derail Fire's playoff run

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USA TODAY

Even a win showed how injuries could derail Fire's playoff run

Major League Soccer has earned a reputation as a league of very fine margins.

The league’s desired goal of parity means only a couple very good or very bad teams are notably better or worse than most of the pack. A couple key injuries leave a big mark on a team.

When the Fire lost six of seven matches after the Gold Cup break injuries were an easy explanation for the team’s slump. Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster were both in the middle of breakout seasons and their absences coincided with the dropoff in results. They returned and the team has showed improvement in a 4-1-2 stretch since the skid ended.

The recent run has secured a playoff berth, but a new group of injuries have popped up at similar times and could doom the Fire’s chances of doing any damage in the playoffs. In Sunday’s 3-2 win against Philadelphia, a team already eliminated from playoff contention and which has just one win on the road all season, the Fire were without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho and Michael de Leeuw. David Accam, who has been nursing a hip injury, came off the bench.

Even in victory, the Fire had to come from behind and showed a less than stellar performance with plenty on the line. Playoff seeding is incredibly tight heading into the final weekend, with the Fire having the chance to finish anywhere from second to fifth.

The Fire led in the third minute but trailed 10 minutes later, something that irked coach Veljko Paunovic.

“After the third minute we actually thought that the game for us was over and that’s unacceptable,” Paunovic said. “We cannot ever again have that performance or that mindset.”

Paunovic did praise the team’s character to find a way to turn it on and get the win.

“We are kind of happy to see that we are capable to react that way, to go basically from zero to 10 in just 15 minutes of the halftime break,” Paunovic said.

However, the need to turn it on like that is not a good sign for the playoffs when the opponents will be better than Philadelphia. One of the reasons for the improved play was the introduction of David Accam into the match after halftime. Accam was fouled in the box to earn the penalty kick that Nemanja Nikolic scored to tie the match.

[RELATED: With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year’]

The Ghanaian has been nursing a hip injury for weeks and it has limited his playing time. This was the third straight match he has not started. When asked if not starting Accam was about his injury or resting him for the playoffs, Paunovic said, “It’s a little bit of everything.”

“I felt good today on the field,” Accam said. “I haven’t played in a long time so today I felt good and I think I’m ready to help this team.”

Accam described the injury as a nerve injury. He said the plan was for him to play 30 minutes, but Paunovic told him to get ready earlier because the team might need him.

“Sometimes I just wake up and I don’t know,” Accam said. “It’s really painful. Other times it feels so good. The last two or three weeks it feels really, really painful.”

This was also the first match Michael de Leeuw, the team’s leader in assists, missed due to his torn ACL suffered last match against New York City FC. Juninho missed his fifth straight match with a knee injury and his status for the playoffs remains unclear. Bastian Schweinsteiger is nursing a thigh injury and while he is expected to be available for the postseason, his fitness will be in question. Joao Meira went down early in Sunday’s match and finished the match, but was walking with a significant limp in the locker room after the game.

This all adds up to plenty question marks heading into the playoffs for the Fire. Who knows what the team will look like when the postseason rolls around.

With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year'

With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year'

Nemanja Nikolic has won scoring titles before in his career so his place at the top of the Major League Soccer goal-scoring list is not an unfamiliar place for him.

Nikolic, who joined the Fire this offseason, won the scoring title three times in the Hungarian league and did so in his last full season in the Polish Ekstraklasa before leaving for the Fire. By scoring a hat trick in Sunday’s 3-2 win against Philadelphia, Nikolic put himself in prime position to win the Golden Boot in his first year in MLS.

Nikolic scored in the third minute, finishing off a long ball from Brandon Vincent that gave him a breakaway, buried a penalty kick in the second half to tie the match and scored the game-winner in the 78th minute on an impressive first-touch finish. Nikolic now has 24 goals on the season. The nearest competitors in the scoring title race, Diego Valeri (21) and David Villa (20), would need a hat trick of their own just to get back in the race with one weekend left in the regular season.

“I think it’s important for every striker to win this,” Nikolic said of the scoring title. “This is our job. We need to do this every week. The season is really long so up and down situations you will have always. The important thing is how you will believe in these things and how you will come out from the bad momentum and also how you will train when you have good momentum.”

Nikolic’s third goal was huge beyond getting Nikolic his first hat trick of the season. The win moved the Fire up to third in the Eastern Conference standings while a draw would have dropped the team to fifth. A fifth-place finish means going on the road in the first-round so securing at least a top four spot is a big difference.

When he scored the third goal and again when he was subbed out of the match in added time, the crowd chanted “NIKO!”

“I feel really good, not just about hat trick, about the victory,” Nikolic said. “It was really important for us. The first half was not that great, but I think we showed attitude. We showed personality, how we need to play in second half. We were not afraid.”


During the week leading up to the Philadelphia match, Nikolic talked up how many quality strikers were deserving of winning the scoring title. When asked if any of his teammates had joked about the scoring race with him, Nikolic responded very seriously about what it means.

"I think it’s no joke," he said. "I think it’s work of one year."

Vincent assisted on both of Nikolic’s goals from open play.

“Unbelievable accomplishment for him,” Vincent said of Nikolic likely winning the Golden Boot. “He deserves every bit of it. He’s been clinical on the chances he’s gotten. He probably could have had even more goals, honestly. He’s a striker and he deserves that for sure.”