Tony Tchani adjusting quickly to Fire after being surprised by trade

Chicago Fire

Tony Tchani adjusting quickly to Fire after being surprised by trade

When Tony Tchani started the Fire’s preseason finale against Tulsa on Saturday, it was hard to tell that he had been with the team for only one training session before that game.

The Fire traded for Tchani, sending $150,000 of Targeted Allocation Money to Vancouver, on Wednesday and his first practice with the team was Friday.

“I feel like he was with us all this time and also I have the feeling that he feels the same,” coach Veljko Paunovic said after Saturday’s game. “Immediately when we spoke (Friday), from the first session we had that walkthrough and preparation for the game, he understood everything perfectly.”

Tchani played with Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger, arguably the two most important players on the Fire’s roster, in central midfield. Tchani and McCarty played more defensive roles while Schweinsteiger had the freedom to be more involved in the attack.

Tchani has been in MLS since 2010 and has made 169 career MLS regular season starts with 10 more playoff starts so him fitting in quickly may not be a big surprise.

“I think so far, so good,” Tchani said. “I knew a few guys on the team, which was pretty much easier just to get to know those guys.”

Tchani was teammates with defender Christian Dean in Vancouver before Dean was traded to the Fire last summer. He also played with assistant coach Eric Gehrig for three years in Columbus.

While easing into his new team hasn’t been a difficult challenge for Tchani, the trade did catch him off guard. Vancouver traded defender Tim Parker to the New York Red Bulls for midfielder Felipe Martins and $500,000 of allocation money. Felipe’s addition made Tchani more expendable for Vancouver.

“I was surprised because I had a pretty good preseason so I didn’t expect anything,” Tchani said. “And I played every game. If I would have expected it I was hoping to be at least benched in one of those games to give me a heads up. I think they did a pretty good job hiding it from me.”

Adding another experienced, MLS proven central midfielder to the team provides Paunovic with more flexibility. Tchani can take on a similar role to the one Juninho had last season.

The Brazilian formed a starting midfield trio with McCarty and Schweinsteiger nine times in 2017 similar to the way Tchani joined McCarty and Schweinsteiger on Saturday, but Juninho was also a solid fill-in when either of the Fire stalwarts were unavailable. Juninho made 17 starts last year, but also missed some time due to injury so Tchani could be in line for more minutes this season.

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.