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

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

gordon-signs.jpg
USA TODAY

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.