Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty providing big personalities for Fire


Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty providing big personalities for Fire

After not having a clear leader before last season, the Fire now have two big personalities leading the way in Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Both made an early impression on rookie midfielder Mo Adams, who also left an impression of sorts on McCarty.

“The first training session we had, I got a little kick from Mo Adams and I enjoyed that, I enjoyed that quite a bit actually,” McCarty said. “I like young players and I like rookies that have attitude and that have personality and that aren’t afraid of supposed bigger guys or veteran guys. I really enjoy that. He apologized to me after that and I was like, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it man. This is competition. I love it.’”

Adams, selected 10th in Friday’s draft by the Fire after trading up for the pick, said he didn’t want to change anything about himself as a player just because he was a rookie.

“I’m the kind of guy that will get stuck into challenges and stuff,” Adams said. “It’s what brought me here and I’m going to continue doing that. I think I’ve got great mentors in Dax and obviously Bastian and I’m going to kind of remain grounded and see what they do and just try to get that on board and of course their experience and stuff, there’s a lot to take in, but I’m certainly shocked that I call them my teammates right now. It’s a fantastic experience.”

The Englishman recalled his first time meeting Schweinsteiger and told the story with a grin on his face.

“He sits across me in the locker room,” Adams said. “I remember the first time he walked in, I shook his hand and I was like ‘What’s up, man?’ I’ve watched this guy throughout his years in the Bundesliga and I’m a [Manchester] United fan, too, so watching him play in the Premier League was amazing. Now to play alongside him in practice and hopefully games in the future is going to be something to look forward to.”

Adams plays in central midfield and will likely be the backup to Schweinsteiger and McCarty. McCarty was captain of the New York Red Bulls before the Fire traded for him and Schweinsteiger’s resume tends to draw respect from opponents and teammates. Both players have turned into the faces of the Fire and give younger players like Adams recognizable figures to gravitate towards.

For Schweinsteiger, returning to the Fire and getting a full preseason to prepare after joining three games into the season last year is a notable difference from a year ago.

“I remember the first game was not easy on the field to remember who is who, you know the names,” Schweinsteiger said of his Fire debut last April. “Of course I settled in and for me it’s very important to have a preseason and work... on a lot of things that we are prepared for the long season. Last year it was not so easy. We still, I think, did very well, but of course I think it’s going to be an advantage now to work together from the first day on.”

While Schweinsteiger is with the team in the preseason, more additions are still expected. Rafael Ramos is the only player added so far this offseason who isn’t a rookie and he likely won’t be a regular starter. McCarty doesn’t think having players arrive in the middle of the preseason is problematic.

“I think you can look at it two ways,” McCarty said. “Yeah, it’s great to have everyone that you’re going to have going forward in preseason so you can get some continuity. Guys can get to know each other’s tendencies, but I think you can also look at it like when Basti came in. He didn’t have a preseason with us. He came in three or four games into the season and didn’t miss a beat. He made us better right away so if you’re signing players of that quality and that caliber I don’t think it really matters if they have a preseason or not.”

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.