Return of the Fire? Fire hope for redemption on Star Wars Night

Return of the Fire? Fire hope for redemption on Star Wars Night

The Chicago Fire are currently licking their wounds like the rebels at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and are hoping Saturday’s game against Minnesota will be the Fire’s version of Return of the Jedi.

The Fire have lost three straight and five of six, but a look at the standings show that a home game against Minnesota may more closely resemble a bunch of hapless stormtroopers than a duel with Darth Vader. The Loons (6-14-4, 22 points) have the fewest points in the league, are winless on the road and have allowed the most goals in the league (51).

Despite facing a bottom-dwelling opponent, the Fire are going to trust their Jedi training and avoid overlooking Saturday’s game.

“MLS is built on parity so you cannot take any team lightly,” goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. “We know they’re a good team. They went to Seattle this past weekend and gave them a hell of a game. We’re going to come in ready for a fight and we just got to play the way we have been playing, the way that we know we can play and it’s going to be really important for us to get three points.”

The game will be live on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. It is Star Wars Night at Toyota Park, thus all the references in this preview.

A disturbance in the Force has hit the Fire's defense in the form of injuries lately. Those injuries have played a role in the Fire’s recent slide with three regular starting defenders going down. Brandon Vincent (quad) and Joao Meira (calf) are out yet again, but Matt Polster (left knee) was training with the rest of the team this week and is listed as questionable. Vincent is back in training, but was limited and worked out on the side.

David Accam, the Fire player most likely to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, is also listed as questionable with a hip injury. He had the same injury entering the Toronto game last weekend and played all 90 minutes.

Minnesota’s leading goal-scorer, Christian Ramirez, has missed the last two games. He sat out training on Thursday, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and is day-to-day. Another talented Force wielder, Ethan Finlay, scored on his debut for the Loons after being traded from Columbus. His goal gave Minnesota an early lead at the Western Conference leaders, but Minnesota ultimately succumbed to the Dark Side when Clint Dempsey drew and converted a penalty kick in the 94th minute.

“We have a chance to make three points at home against Minnesota and we have to,” Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “We will not make the mistake against Minnesota. They also played in Seattle a very good game away so we will give everything to get three points at home.”

The Fire (12-8-5, 41 points) are in third place heading into this weekend’s action and the schedule presents a good opportunity for the Fire to make ground in the standings. Not only are the Fire hosting last-place Minnesota, but the two New York teams face off Friday night. New York City FC is five points ahead of the Fire for second place while the Red Bulls are three points behind the Fire. A win against the Loons means the Fire will gain ground on at least one of those teams.

Midfielder Dax McCarty’s message heading the Minnesota game was more along the lines of “Do or do not, there is no try.” He does not expect an easy game.

“It’s actually the worst time to play Minnesota,” McCarty said. “We’re not playing well and they’re going to come in here with even more confidence that they can get a result.

“There are no easy games in this league, I can promise you that. Just because they’re where they are in the standings, they have talent and they’re well-coached. They have a lot of guys that can hurt you.”

Chicago Fire vs. Minnesota United

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.


When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-8-5, 41 points), Minnesota (6-14-4, 22 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.