Fire

Weighing the chances of other Fire players making the MLS All-Star Game

Weighing the chances of other Fire players making the MLS All-Star Game

The Chicago Fire already have two All-Stars in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, but more may be on the way.

Nikolic and Schweinsteiger were voted into the Fan XI for the August 2 All-Star Game at Soldier Field. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic will select 11 more players and commissioner Don Garber will add the final two to make up a 23-man roster.

Who else might make that group for the Fire? Here’s a look at the chances at some other candidates for the Fire.

Dax McCarty, midfielder

Schweinsteiger is the bigger name and has the better career resume, but a strong argument can be made for McCarty being the Fire’s MVP this year.

McCarty has helped provide key defensive cover for the backline. The Fire’s defensive personnel is almost identical to last year with only Matt Polster, who has started just under half the team’s games, different from the defensive unit a year ago. Despite having similar personnel, the Fire have gone from a team that allowed the second most goals in the league in 2016 (58 in 34 matches) to one of just four teams that is allowing a goal or less per match. McCarty should get a lot of credit for that.

In the attack he has added three assists from a deep position in midfield and is regularly one of the highest-percentage passers on the team. He has helped turn the Fire into a team that was last in the league in possession last year to one that typically has a majority of the ball now.

On top of his two-way contributions, McCarty has been a positive voice in the locker room, always raising expectations and demanding more of the team in postgame comments. Plus, he has become a national team regular under coach Bruce Arena, giving him more cachet.

All-Star Game chances: Lock

David Accam, winger

Accam was good with the Fire his first two years, but he is having a breakout season. He has 10 goals and seven assists, putting him in elite goal-production territory.


Attacking positions have more competition to get on the All-Star roster in MLS, but Accam’s numbers are hard to leave off. Nikolic leads the league in goals plus assists (19) and second place is another Fan XI selection in New York City FC’s David Villa (18). Accam and Portland’s Diego Valeri have identical totals in both stats and both are safe bets to be included on the final roster.

All-Star Game chances: Near-lock

Brandon Vincent, left back

Vincent got a dubious All-Star selection last year as a rookie due to the simple fact that there aren’t many good fullbacks, especially left-sided ones, in MLS. This year, Vincent has turned into a weapon in the attack, contributing a goal and three assists, while continuing to show improvement on the defensive side. McCarty called him one of the top three left backs in the league earlier this season.

The potential downside for Vincent is that the Fire should have at least four others on the roster, meaning his inclusion would give the Fire nearly a quarter of the roster. In Vincent’s favor is that the game is being played in Chicago, which means his coach is picking almost all of the remaining players, and the Fire are tied for the best record in MLS. Going against him is that three of the Fan XI picks were fullbacks (former Fire player DaMarcus Beasley, Greg Garza and Graham Zusi), meaning only one or two more might be picked while center backs take up most of the spots going to defenders.

All-Star Game chances: Bubble selection

Matt Polster, right back

Fire fans have shown appreciation for Polster’s play of late and his name has been started to come up in All-Star discussion. There are a few problems for Polster’s chances though.

For one, he has started only nine matches for the Fire after missing the first two months of the season due to injury. On top of that, he was a bit shaky in those first few starts at right back as he readjusted to a position he hasn’t played consistently in his career.

Polster has four assists, including three in the last three matches, which is a very good return for 10 appearances as a right back. He has gotten better at positioning and service from attacking positions. He may be playing at a near All-Star level lately, but he doesn’t have the same body of work as Vincent and faces the same problems Vincent does in regards to having a bunch of teammates and three fullbacks already on the roster.

All-Star Game chances: Unlikely

What’s next for Fire after making three trades on draft day?

schwein-dax-120.jpg
USA TODAY

What’s next for Fire after making three trades on draft day?

For much of this winter, it appeared the Fire would enter 2018 with much of the same team that had the third best record in the league in 2017.

There were only minor surprises when the team announced which options it picked up and which players were cut loose. Homegrown signing Grant Lillard was the first addition of the offseason on Jan. 10 and that was expected after he completed his college career.

However, Nelson Rodriguez was apparently busy in the week leading up to the draft and saw that work turned into three trades on Friday. The Fire got two picks in the top 10 and sent away two starters from last year, including key winger David Accam.

There were already holes to fill on the roster, but the exits of Accam and goalkeeper Matt Lampson mean there are a couple more position needs with training camp starting on Monday.

“The roster is very much incomplete,” Rodriguez said after the draft. “There’s still quite a bit of work left to do. While it’s ideal to go into training camp with something that more closely resembles the roster that you’re looking to get into the season with. In our case, it is more important that we continue to add pieces that we think fit our style, fit our mentality, fit our philosophy and it’s important now that we remain disciplined in that pursuit and not feel pressure to just close the deal.”

A look at a potential starting lineup based on the current roster isn’t by any means bad, but it does need some improvement to match or improve upon last year.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty again give the Fire an elite central midfield pairing, Nemanja Nikolic is back after winning the Golden Boot in his first year and the defense should be somewhat solid depending on how Lillard and Jonathan Campbell fill in for the departed Joao Meira. However, goalkeeper is a question mark with Richard Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland having two MLS appearances between them and Nikolic needs help in the attack with Accam and Arturo Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic expected to be out until at least July while recovering from torn ACLs.

Seeing Accam leave seemed like an inevitability at some point after years of rumors and complaints. Now that it’s a reality, it’s up to Rodriguez and the Fire to deliver an attack that can be productive without him after he had 14 goals and eight assists last year.

Second-year player Daniel Johnson is the immediate fill-in for Accam. He showed flashes of his potential last year as a rookie, but was limited to 125 after dealing with multiple injuries in 2017. Jon Bakero has the ability to step in underneath Nikolic, but that is an important role to throw at a rookie. The Fire’s dip at the end of last season coincided with de Leeuw’s injury so getting production out of that spot will be important.

The Fire could probably do just fine with one of Johnson or Bakero playing significant minutes in the first half of the season, but both? That’s asking an awful lot out of inexperienced players and it’s why the attack is likely where other moves will come.

Rodriguez said after the draft that there had been more trades in the works and some may still happen.

“We were very aggressive in Florida and here in Philadelphia in trying to make trades within the league and we were unsuccessful,” he said. “Some of those opportunities were by design, by our pursuit. There are still some opportunities which we wish to continue exploring and we will continue to make efforts.”

Rodriguez said the Accam trade gave the team “a lot of flexibility.” The allocation money gives the Fire an expanded salary cap of sorts to work with. Rodriguez said it “further opens up targets in the league” and he also added that they have specific players in mind.

“We also have three targets in particular outside of MLS,” he said. “I would say it’s possible given our current stated resources, our salary budget against the cap, it’s possible to potentially add two of those. Again, those are international deals. You first have to get the deal done before you can worry about the salary budget implications, but we will continue to be deliberate in our actions and disciplined in our attention.”

The Fire's roster is at 21, with two of those going to miss half the season due to injury, after finishing last season with 30.

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

accam-traded.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire stay busy on draft day, trade David Accam to Philadelphia

The dominoes continue to fall on the Fire's offseason, and seem to be doing so at an increasing pace.

After making two trades on draft day, the blockbuster move of the day broke after the first round completed. As first reported by Paul Tenorio and later announced at the draft, the Fire traded winger David Accam to Philadelphia for $300,000 in General Allocation Money and $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The $1.2 million total is among the biggest allocation money trades in league history.

The move will have major implications on 2018 due to Accam's production since joining the Fire in 2015, but also because it likely is a move to set up other moves. Accam had his best year with the Fire in 2017 with 14 goals and eight assists while only making 24 starts (30 appearances in total).

"David had three very strong years for us and as we move forward though, we thought this would help," general manager Nelson Rodriguez said after the draft.

However, he had voiced his displeasure about being left off the All-Star Game roster by coach Veljko Paunovic, saying he was "disappointed my coach ignored me." Accam seemed to be appeased when the Fire picked up his option for 2018 in August. With his contract situation somewhat more sorted out, it appeared Accam may still have a future with the Fire despite having previously stated a desire to return to Europe at some point in his career.

Despite that history, Rodriguez said the Fire did not initiate talks for the trade.

"David never asked to leave," Rodriguez said. "I think he was surprised by the trade, but you’d have to ask him. It came together over the past week while we were in Florida for the combine and Philadelphia for the draft. The Union was aggressive in its bid and its intention.”

Rodriguez admitted to interest in Accam both from abroad and within MLS in the past. He explained the timing of why the trade was made now and other offers were turned down in the past.

“This was the most attractive offer we had in this window," Rodriguez said. "Circumstances change. We’re different today than we were in August when there were some other offers from overseas clubs. We just felt that this was an opportunity for us to try to advance our championship program in a different way and we thought it was a fair deal for both parties.”

While the move is a big one for Philadelphia in getting a player like Accam, the Fire likely aren't done. This is typically not the type of move that is made without another move in mind. Juan Quintero rumors continue to float around with the Fire and Argentine club River Plate both being mentioned as possible landing places for the Colombian international who has scored at a World Cup.

With Accam leaving, the Fire have an open spot for a Designated Player. Nemanja Nikolic and the recently re-signed Bastian Schweinsteiger are the two DPs on the roster.