Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

Preview: Fire start road trip at Toronto Friday on CSN Plus 2

After an undefeated three-game homestand, the Chicago Fire now head on the road for three straight.

The first of the three road games is at Toronto FC, the defending Eastern Conference champions, on Friday. Coverage is on CSN Plus 2 starting at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Check out CSN's channel finder for where CSN Plus 2 is available for you. The match will air on Cozi TV. The Fire released further broadcast information for the match, including re-airs on CSN+ (11 p.m. Friday) and CSN (1 p.m. Saturday).

Toronto (1-1-4, 7 points) is out of the playoff positions for now, but has had just two matches at home. Both of those matches have been draws. The Fire (3-1-2, 11 points) 0-1-1 on the road so far this season.

The two teams met in the final preseason match in Florida. The Fire won 4-1. That result shouldn't have any bearing on Friday's match, but does provide some familiarity for some of the Fire's new players.

"This is for me, one of the best teams in MLS, for sure," Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We played against them in Florida. OK, this was the friendly game, but in that game we played really good and we can show some things. They have a lot of good players, a lot of individual players who can finish the game alone so we need to watch out on these things and to be prepared."

The trio of forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore and midfielder Michael Bradley lead the way for TFC. Altidore has gotten off to a hot start with three goals and two assists while Giovinco has scored one goal.

Both Giovinco and Altidore will provide a tough test for a Fire defense that has recorded back-to-back shutouts.

"Just don't let him breathe, put pressure on him," defender Michael Harrington said. "These guys are good players, but they're very good players when you don't have pressure on them and you don't take care of them. Also when we have the ball we got to make sure that we're aware of where they are on the field so when the ball turns over, they don't get the ball in dangerous spots. These guys are good players, but it's nothing we can't handle and it's something we prepared for."

Last season Toronto swept the season series with three one-goal victories against the Fire. Giovinco had a goal and two assists in those games while Altidore had a goal and an assist.

"We will do everything to stop him," coach Veljko Paunovic said of Giovinco. "Great player, obviously with Giovinco in attack, a very difficult attack for all the teams around the league. We played against difficult teams in the past. Just last week against (Juan) Agudelo and (Kei) Kamara was also good attack, and Lee Nguyen also, so we are used to it. We have to know that there aren't easy games in this league. There are not easy attackers and we have to do everything to stop them. We will find a way."

A win would be a statement that the Fire are in the upper echelon of the conference, but even a draw would be a positive result. Despite a relatively slow start, Toronto is still one of the most talented teams in the league and has lost just once so far.

Midfielder Matt Polster's season debut for the Fire has continued to be pushed back. Polster has returned to training, but was still limited this week. After coming off a knee injury, Polster is listed as questionable with "right hip flexor tightness." Daniel Johnson, who has come off the bench each of the last three games, is also listed as questionable with a left adductor strain.

Toronto's injury report is lengthier. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin is out for the third straight game. Alex Bono has started in his place. Starting centerback Drew Moor is also out.

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

Where: BMO Field, Toronto

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

TV: CSN Plus 2/Cozi TV (channel finder)

Records: Fire (3-1-2, 11 points), TFC (1-1-4, 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.