Yallop on Fire's draw with NYCFC: 'We just stopped playing'


Yallop on Fire's draw with NYCFC: 'We just stopped playing'

In one of the most grueling matches of its season to date, the Chicago Fire were unable to withstand late pressure from 10-man New York City FC in a pulsating second half, emerging with a 2-2 result in front of 23,315 at Yankee Stadium.

Behind a first-ever goal from Romanian midfielder Razvan Cocis and a penalty kick from captain Jeff Larentowicz - and goals in first- and second-half stoppage time from NYCFC - the Men in Red secured their first draw of 2015 on Friday night.

Showing an astute and spirited initiative, the Fire nearly opened the scoring in the seventh minute, as Scotsman Shaun Maloney turned the ball into the back of the net, only to be dubiously flagged for offsides.

The Men in Red continued to pose a threat for the hosts in the opening quarter of an hour, with David Accam latching on to an expertly weighted pass over the top of a wobbly NYCFC defense in the 10th minute, heading his effort straight into the hands of ‘keeper Josh Saunders.

Four minutes later, Yallop’s side broke the deadlock after Maloney’s quickly taken free kick found Cocis, who strode into the box unmarked and glanced a header over Saunders to give the Fire a deserved advantage and supply the midfielder with his first MLS goal.

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Accam, who returned after serving his one-match suspension in the team’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, tormented the home side all night long and, just as in their initial meeting on April 24, led to NYCFC’s undoing in the 26th minute.

After picking up the ball in the opposition half, the Ghanaian international closed in on goal with just Saunders to beat. After being taken down from behind by RJ Allen - drawing a straight red card in the process - a penalty kick ensued, which was calmly stroked home by captain Jeff Larentowicz.

Despite putting in arguably their most polished first half performance, a mental lapse in the backline allowed for David Villa to unleash a shot at Sean Johnson, which was spilled only for Mehdi Ballouchy to capitalize and give the home side an unforeseen jolt on the stroke of halftime after being thoroughly outplayed.

"It was probably the best we’ve played in a long time in the first 44 minutes," said Yallop after the match. "There could have been more. I just talked to the guys in there and I’m just disappointed in how we handled the second half. We just stopped playing.

The goal right before halftime obviously gives them hope, then you’ve just got to get one goal to get a tie. I just felt that we allowed them to play when we shouldn’t have. We had chances to bury the game as well, but still, we shouldn’t give them a chance. We’re just disappointed.”

[RELATED: Heedful of NYCFC's high-press system, Fire hope to wrest first road win]

In a fiery second half, both sides went toe-to-toe, exchanging punch after punch. After yellow cards were dished out to Larentowicz, Joevin Jones and Maloney within a span of seven minutes, the closing stages opened the door for NYCFC to push on and snatch an equalizer, which eventually arrived in stoppage time.

Good awareness and tight maneuvering from Villa resulted in the Spaniard relinquishing the ball to rookie Khiry Shelton, who cropped up in the box tucked his left-footed shot past Johnson and into the back of the net in the 91st minute for his first career MLS tally.

“The first half was probably as good as we’ve played all season," Maloney said. "I think as a team and as a whole we have to be really brave when we are in this position.

"We were a little bit too predictable. Without condensing the middle of the pitch and then going wide I think it was far easier for them to defend us.”

The Fire will be left to rue what might have been after being on the cusp of its first away win of the season. Still, the draw moves the Men in Red up to fifth place on 10 points in the Eastern Conference for the time being. Yallop's side will continue its stretch of seven consecutive matches against Eastern Conference opposition with an away fixture at Columbus Crew SC on May 22.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz, Adailton, Joevin Jones; Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis; David Accam (Jason Johnson, 88'), Shaun Maloney, Harry Shipp (Michael Stephens, 71'); Kennedy Igboananike (Quincy Amarikwa, 68'). 

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.