Thrown into the Fire: Christian Dean hoping fresh start will benefit his career


Thrown into the Fire: Christian Dean hoping fresh start will benefit his career

It didn’t take long after Christian Dean was traded to the Chicago Fire for him to see significant playing time.

Dean was acquired by the Fire in a trade from Vancouver on Aug. 9, the last day before trade deadline, and has already made two appearances totaling 175 minutes. He was thrown into the deep end in Montreal after Joao Meira went down with an injury five minutes into that game, which took place a week after the Fire traded for him.

On Saturday, Dean made his first start with the Fire. He played all 90 minutes in the 3-1 loss to Toronto FC, in which he had the assignment of defending national team striker Jozy Altidore.

Despite jumping straight into the mix in a playoff race and getting playing time right away, Dean said the transition hasn’t been difficult.

“It’s actually been very easy,” Dean said. “The guys are very welcoming. I think the coaches are welcoming, the staff is welcoming so I really enjoy it here.”

Dean was added to give the Fire extra depth at center back. Before he arrived the team had only three, Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell. Dean got the starting nod ahead of Campbell on Saturday.

“He’s a player that we have eyed and scouted for a long time,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Tuesday. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work in a certain environment and we know Vancouver put a lot into Christian and had high hopes for him and worked hard with him, but he had a rash of injuries that probably hurt his time there, but he’s still very young. We still believe he has a lot of high level qualities. He’s very good on the ball, he’s a very good decision maker. He’s got great athleticism. He has a hunger for the game and he’s a good person. Time will tell. We didn’t acquire him with just six months in mind, but how long that extends will in large part be determined by how we interpret his performance.”

Dean, 24, was the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft. Playing time was limited in Vancouver, partially due to injuries. A broken bone in his foot cost him the entire 2016 season. Another foot injury, this time a stress reaction in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot suffered in training on April 25, kept him out of the rotation for the Whitecaps after he started three of the team’s first five games this season.

“I’m feeling really good right now,” Dean said. “This is the most healthy I’ve felt in the past two years. I’m just trying to take my opportunity.”

Soccer wasn’t always the focus for Dean. As he put it, he grew up in a basketball family. His half-brother, Josh Huestis, plays in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

At 6-foot-3, Dean stands out on a soccer field due to his size. When asked if he can dunk, Dean responded with a laugh, “Oh yeah.”

Despite playing a lot of basketball growing up, Dean made the decision to focus on soccer.

“I think when I was like 16 I realized I really actually wanted to play soccer,” Dean said. “I went into college thinking I was just going to enjoy my time playing in college and I started playing well there and got opportunities.”

After three years at Cal, Dean got a Generation adidas contract, making him an early entry player into the draft.

Dean said he fits into coach Veljko Paunovic’s style, which, as he described it, is to play the ball out of the back and through midfield.

His move to the Fire has given him a fresh start and another chance to get regular MLS minutes.

“I’m very, very happy that the club wanted me,” Dean said. “It seems the players really want me.”

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.