Why it was a near-perfect weekend for the Fire


Why it was a near-perfect weekend for the Fire

As the Fire struggled in July and August it may have seemed that the world was collapsing around them. The team was struggling and the chasing pack in the Eastern Conference were almost all putting positive runs together.

This weekend will feel like a nice change of pace for Fire fans after the forecast for the team's playoff position seemed to be getting worse with each week. Not only did the Fire pick up a 3-0 win against D.C. on Saturday, but the four other teams the Fire (14-9-6, 48 points) is jockeying for playoff position with all failed to win. Here's a look at how everything seemed to break the Fire's way this weekend.

Atlanta 3, Orlando 3

Atlanta's record: 12-8-7 (43 points)

Games remaining: 7 (5 home, 2 away)

The national media is going to focus on the league-record crowd of 70,425 that showed up to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, but the home team couldn't use the crowd to pick up a win. With Leandro Gonzalez Pirez suspended due to yellow card accumulation, the Atlanta defense struggled. Only another Josef Martinez hat trick, his second in a row, kept Atlanta from losing.

Atlanta is five points behind the Fire, but has two games in hand and five more at the Benz. Atlanta still controls its destiny as far as passing the Fire and the next five games are all against teams outside the playoffs, but the Fire did get some extra breathing room.

Vancouver 2, Columbus 2

Columbus' record: 13-12-5 (44 points)

Games remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)

The Crew's draw in Vancouver is actually a positive result on its own. Vancouver took the Western Conference lead on Wednesday and had won three in a row entering Saturday's game.

However, Columbus blew a lead in the 92nd minute, meaning the point probably feels more like a missed opportunity than a solid result. The Crew have the fewest games remaining of the Eastern Conference playoff contenders, but does host the New York Red Bulls in a game next Saturday.

Colorado 1, New York City FC 1

NYCFC's record: 15-8-6 (51 points)

Games remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)

NYCFC led for most of the game at last-place Colorado, but, like Columbus, blew the lead late. Dominique Badji tied the game in the 88th minute, allowing the Fire to move within three points of second place.

The Fire host NYCFC on Sept. 30 in a game which now could move the Fire into second place if the standings hold for another week. That game will also be the third in eight days for both teams.

New York Red Bulls 0, Philadelphia 0

Red Bulls' record: 12-10-6 (42 points)

Games remaining: 6 (3 home, 3 away)

Of the four draws this weekend, the Red Bulls will probably be the most disappointed. New York hosted a Philadelphia team that is out of the race on Sunday, but couldn't score despite peppering the Union goal. Andre Blake came up with eight saves for Philly, which hosts the Fire next Saturday.

Key players Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan and Tyler Adams came off the bench in an effort to keep them rested for Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup final in Kansas City. A trip to Columbus three days later is a big one for playoff seeding.


Elsewhere, Montreal and New England lost to significantly dent their fading playoff hopes. Montreal wasn't likely to catch the Fire even before losing at home to Minnesota, but the Impact would have been within three points of the Red Bulls with a win. Unless multiple shocking things happen, the six-team playoff field in the Eastern Conference appears set. It's all about finding out how teams 2-6 rank.

The reason the top seed isn't in question is because Toronto FC is in another stratosphere right now. The Reds traveled to LA without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore (28 goals and 11 assists this season between them) and won 4-0 at the Galaxy anyway. Toronto is 11 points clear of NYCFC in the Supporters' Shield race and could clinch a first-round bye Wednesday against struggling Montreal.

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.