Fire

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

You don't have to tell the Chicago Fire that it's tough to play on the road in Major League Soccer.

The Fire went winless on the road in 2015 and had a 1-14-2 road record last year. In the first two games away from Toyota Park this season, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw at Columbus and got thumped 4-0 in Atlanta.

With that in mind, the Fire start a three-game road trip Friday at Toronto.

"It's just an hour flight to Toronto. I see just a normal thing," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Everyone around the world is playing and traveling. I know it's hard and I know it's a long season, but we just started the season actually and we just have to prepare well."

The Fire's recent track record on the road isn't that much of an anomaly around MLS. Road teams are 11-38-18 to start the 2017 MLS season. Both the win percentage (16.4 percent) and the points per game (0.76) are down from last year (18.8 league-wide road win percentage, 0.88 points per game in 2016). Compare that to the top four European leagues (Germany, Spain, England, Italy) where in the current season road teams have a win percentage ranging from 27 percent to 31 percent.

There are plenty of factors that go into why teams struggle away from home in MLS, some of which are not unique to the league or the sport. Obviously, there's the fan support when playing at home, something that has become more prevalent as more teams draw big crowds and have their own stadiums. There's also the travel. MLS teams are traveling bigger distances than many other leagues around the world due to the size of the U.S. and don't have regular chartered flights like other top tier American professional sports leagues. Then there's the parity within MLS. The gap between the top and bottom teams is smaller than in the top European leagues so a factor like playing at home carries more weight.

"There's lots of different things you can say," defender Michael Harrington said. "Obviously the fans give the other team a boost, but I try to look at it as just another game. It's 11 players against 11 players inside the white lines and there's no reason we can't go there and win a game, especially the way that we're playing."

[MORE FIRE: Nemanja Nikolic named MLS Player of the Week]

The Fire are coming off a three-game homestand. During that run of games they picked up two wins and a draw and moved into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Given the numbers and the Fire's recent road record, getting seven points out of a possible nine on the road trip, which also features games at the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy, seems highly unlikely. If the Fire can get three or four points though, that would be a better than average return. If it's less than that, they would be among the majority of MLS teams, which have a good home record and a bad road record.

"I think we need to put the same identity what we make here in Toyota Park on away games," forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We need to believe that we also can win in away games, not just here in Chicago. This is our first step. We know that the last year the Fire have some problems in away games. We want to change this."

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.

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

Normally when revisiting games there are trends or performances that stick out, but the most notable plays from Sunday's Fire win against Philadelphia were the goals.

Here's what stood out from the four goals that were scored from open play in the Fire's 3-2 victory.

Nikolic gives Fire early lead on long ball

Believe it or not this pass was a direct assist on the first goal of the game:

Brandon Vincent is barely beyond his own penalty box when he launches one for Nemanja Nikolic. The ball bounces three times before Nikolic gets his first touch on it. His second touch is a goal.

The pass itself is nothing special and a defensive error plays a part, but it's hard to believe a pass from that far back can result in an assist.

Philly’s first goal is a chain reaction

On the first goal for Philly, the play begins when Matt Polster is caught way too high in press. Philly was building out of back and Polster, the Fire's right back, pressed well past midfield to win a ball and didn't.

When he doesn’t win it, the ball falls to Fafa Picault behind him on the left wing. Next it's off to the races for the Union.

Center back Johan Kappelhof moves wide to cover for Polster and defend Picault, who makes a nice switch to Chris Pontius after the Fire appeared to be getting back in position. C.J. Sapong beats Joao Meira, who a minute before shook off a leg injury that forced him to have a significant limp after the match. Sapong probably had the edge in the first-step department at that point to get some separation. Kappelhof had to try to slide it away because Picault was waiting at the back post for a tap-in.


The Fire had a chance to recover, but it all started with Polster getting caught too high up the field.

Union string passes together to take lead

A Dax McCarty turnover gave Philadelphia possession and the Union combined passes for an impressive team goal. First it was eight straight passes before one was broken up, but Philadelphia immediately regained possession and connected 12 more passes. After an initial cross is headed away, the second pass after that is Haris Medunjanin chipping a pass to Alejandro Bedoya for the goal. Just an impressive team goal from the Union, even if goalkeeper Matt Lampson made things easier for Bedoya on the finish by coming off his line too early.

Nikolic shows his instincts for game-winner

As for the Fire’s third goal, just watch Landon Donovan and recently-fired New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps explain what happened:

(Note: The video appears to be down for some reason even though it's still linked on the homepage of MLSsoccer.com. The gist of it is that Nikolic did a great job delaying his run to find the space that set him up for the goal as opposed to crashing the six-yard box and being more tightly marked.)