Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire


Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire

The growing investment in and importance of MLS academies have taken away much of the best domestic talent out of the league’s draft, but international talent that stands out in college can still be plentiful in the draft.

Three of the first five picks and six of the first 12 in the 2018 draft were foreign-born players. The Fire traded up to snag two of those players, Jon Bakero and Mo Adams. Both went through the academy systems in their native countries before journeying across the Atlantic to college and now in MLS. Not counting Jack Harrison, who was traded within minutes of being the top pick in the 2016 draft, the Fire hadn’t drafted a player born outside the U.S. in the first round since 2008 (Patrick Nyarko).

Bakero’s story has received more attention because the Spanish-born player is the son of a former FC Barcelona and Spanish national team player, Jose Mari Bakero. He joined Wake Forest after not having any pro prospects in Spain and turned into a Hermann Trophy winner this fall, capping off a four-year career that included an appearance in the College Cup final in 2016.

“I think I’ve been able to learn the Spanish system, the American system and I think that having three and a half years in college allowed me to fully develop as a player, as a person and I think I’m ready now to start my professional career,” Bakero said during the first week of the Fire’s preseason training.

Bakero completed his college career, but Adams left after two years at Syracuse, another ACC powerhouse program. The defensive midfielder played for the academies of Nottingham Forest and Derby County before being offered a professional contract at Blackburn. However, Adams was unable to sign the deal due to injury.

“That was kind of a point where I didn’t know what to do next,” Adams said. “There’s different agencies that sort of release players with scholarships in the States. I kind of decided to take that route. It’s something different, a new chapter that you can learn from. Two years at Syracuse and now I’m here on the professional level.”

When asked about Dom Dwyer, Orlando City’s English-born forward who played collegiately and has since played for the U.S. national team, Adams said Dwyer was someone who helped him make the decision to come stateside.

Adams noted the differences between the way the English and American games are played. He said in the U.S. the game is “more aggressive and intense” but has shortcomings in other areas.

“I think in England the speed of play is maybe quicker, but I think is less intense in that aspect,” Adams said. “The guys think quicker, but not necessarily move as quick. Here you can see the ball and you’ve got two, three guys closing you down straight away. You’re playing against guys who are a lot bigger, more physical and stuff like that. I think that it’s good that I’ve experienced both sides of things.”

As the Fire’s roster currently stands, both players should have a good opportunity to snag regular minutes. Bakero is likely in line to be the first choice attacking midfielder behind, or even potentially alongside, striker Nemanja Nikolic if the Fire don’t add any players at that spot in the next month. Adams could be a leading candidate to fill the minutes lost with Juninho’s departure after his loan expired at the end of 2017.

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.