Arturo Alvarez

International call-ups will be homecomings for two Fire players

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USA TODAY

International call-ups will be homecomings for two Fire players

Dax McCarty continues to get consistently called into the U.S. national team, but he wasn't the only Fire player to receive a call-up for the upcoming international window.

Arturo Alvarez will be rejoining El Salvador for an Oct. 8 friendly against Canada. Alvarez had been a mainstay for El Salvador with 43 caps in his career, but hasn't appeared for the national team since Oct. 2015.

As an added benefit for Alvarez, the game will serve as a homecoming. The game will be played in his native home of Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Houston Dynamo. Alvarez, 32, is American born, but of Salvadoran descent and has represented El Salvador since 2009.

McCarty joins the U.S. for the final two World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF. The U.S. still hasn't clinched a spot in the World Cup and needs to get points in the final two qualifiers. The U.S. hosts Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, McCarty's native home, before traveling to Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10

The Fire don't play again until Oct. 16, a home game against Philadelphia, so neither player is expected to miss time with the Fire.

Notes from the rewatch: Fire win despite losing midfield

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: Fire win despite losing midfield

Numerous times this season the Fire have been the dominant team in midfield, stringing 10 or more passes together to lead to a scoring chance.

It was role reversal on Saturday with D.C. United winning the midfield battle, but the Fire still came out 3-0 winners. With a few key names missing from the Fire's midfield, namely Bastian Schweinsteiger, the team had to find a different way to win and it did.

Here's a look at how the Fire midfield worked with Drew Conner filling in, how Arturo Alvarez changed the game and Bill Hamid being the best goalkeeper to give up three goals in a game.

The Dax McCarty/Drew Conner midfield pairing

With Schweinsteiger and Juninho out, Dax McCarty's midfield partner was Conner. The second-year homegrown player has played more at right back this year, but he began his pro career as a midfielder and still views that as his natural position.

Conner did have a few notable turnovers and wasn't as involved in the play. His 33 touches were tied for the lowest on the team among starters. McCarty had 65 touches and more than twice as many passes attempted (56 to 24).

It appeared D.C. wanted to force Conner into turnovers when possible. This play shows how D.C. swarmed Conner after he received a pass from McCarty:

Another thing worth noting from this play is how there is no support for Conner as he pushes forward. Nemanja Nikolic and the two wingers, David Accam on the left and Alvarez on the right, are too far from Conner to help him and he gets easily and quickly outnumbered on this occasion. This is a slightly unfair example because the player playing underneath Nikolic, Luis Solignac, had won the ball in the defensive third and gave it to McCarty, but the point is D.C. seemed to identify Conner as a weak link.

D.C. finished with 57 percent of the possession and had a number of extended stretches of possession, connecting more than 10 passes in a row. There were five sequences of 15 passes or more in a row completed by D.C. The Fire dropped off in the midfield, choosing not to press, but D.C. was able to break down the Fire this way consistently. The reason it didn't always go noticed was that D.C.'s forward play was lacking. Throw a Nikolic-type forward on this D.C. team and they could be real good next year.

Arturo Alvarez's big plays

With Solignac slotting into Michael de Leeuw's role, Alvarez got to play on the right wing and show off his left foot. He made a number of big plays, including assisting on the Fire's second goal with a cross to Brandon Vincent.

With Accam creating a whopping six chances on the left wing (although four came via corners) and Alvarez creating two on the right wing, the Fire killed D.C. from wide areas. Alvarez is known for cutting in on his left foot from the right wing and creating chances, either for himself or others. That's nothing new.

The key to Alvarez's play on Saturday was that he did some dirty work on the defensive end to go with it. He was credited with four tackles, four clearances and four ball recoveries. The tackles were most on the team and the clearances were most on the team for a non-defender.

Bill Hamid's incredible, unrewarded play

Bill Hamid was outstanding for D.C., but could only do so much. He made an incredible series of saves (see the highlights below) only to be beaten by his own teammate.

On the own goal, it appears Ian Harkes was trying to head it out for a corner, which is odd in the first place. He should have just cleared it up field or back to the sideline. Instead he headed it in the direction of his goal and gave Hamid no chance for a save.

Bill, your thoughts?

Arturo Alvarez takes advantage of first start since July

Arturo Alvarez takes advantage of first start since July

Arturo Alvarez was a bright spot on a bad Fire team last year, but playing time has been hard to come by in 2017.

Alvarez led the 2016 Fire with nine assists and was tied for third on the team with five goals. Once the team beefed up the midfield and added Nemanja Nikolic at striker, moving Michael de Leeuw into more of a midfield role, in the offseason Alvarez has found himself on the bench for most games this season.

He is 15th on the team with 675 minutes played, but with a number of regulars out, the 32-year-old made his eighth start of 2017 in Saturday’s 3-0 win against D.C. Alvarez delivered an assist on the Fire’s second goal, setting up Brandon Vincent’s diving header with a left-footed cross from the right wing.

“You always want to go out there and do a good job and try to help out the team in any way possible,” Alvarez said. “I think I did that tonight.”

[RELATED: Even shorthanded, Fire produce 'encouraging' performance in win]

Coach Veljko Paunovic subbed out Alvarez in the 71st minute, the Fire’s first sub of the match, citing concerns over match fitness due to a lack of recent starts. This was Alvarez’s first start since July 22 and his fourth in 25 games since he started the first four games of the season.

Alvarez now has three goals and two assists on the season.

“He has had a fantastic attitude during the whole year,” Paunovic said of Alvarez. “I think he was always ready and waiting for the opportunity to come. It happened today and he was ready. How many times I think I’ve said that, everyone in our team understands that very well and that’s the strength of our locker room.”