Brandon Vincent

2018 Fire preview: Defenders and goalkeepers


2018 Fire preview: Defenders and goalkeepers

For all the deserved focus on the additions of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Nemanja Nikolic, the Fire’s defense also took a solid step forward in 2017.

The Fire went from allowing 58 goals in each of the previous two seasons, which was tied with Orlando (an expansion team for the first of those two years) for the most goals allowed in the league over that span, to surrendering 47 in 2017. The 47 goals allowed tied for sixth fewest in the league.

The additions of McCarty and Schweinsteiger (and the now departed Juninho) helped to protect the defense from the onslaught of pressure it faced in 2016, but the defenders themselves also took steps forward. At left back Brandon Vincent turned into a solid starter after struggling in his rookie season. When options at right back looked bleak, Matt Polster turned into a revelation at the position and has earned national team call-ups. Neither Vincent nor Polster are without weaknesses, but added steady play to positions that had been major weaknesses.

The Fire also return center back Johan Kappelhof, easily the team’s best defender the past two seasons and an All-Star in 2017.

Returning players (2017 MLS regular season stats)

Johan Kappelhof (33 games played, 33 starts, 2,881 minutes, 4 assists)

Brandon Vincent (27 GP, 26 GS, 2,341 minutes, 2 goals, 5 assists)

Matt Polster (22 GP, 21 GS, 1,769 minutes, 1 goal, 7 assists)

Jonathan Campbell (24 GP, 8 GS, 1,009 minutes)

Christian Dean (3 GP, 2 GS, 220 minutes)

Jorge Corrales (signed with Fire on Sept. 14 but remained with Tulsa)


Rafael Ramos (trade with Orlando)

Grant Lillard (homegrown signing)

The three returning starters appear set to be staples again in 2018. The other center back spot next to Kappelhof is up in the air, but injuries appear to have given Christian Dean the first crack at it. Dean and fellow lefty Lillard appeared to be the favorites for the spot until Lillard suffered a knee injury in preseason that has kept Lillard out for a couple weeks. Campbell, who led the Fire in minutes as a rookie in 2016 and then lost his starting job to the now departed Joao Meira last year, is out for at least the first month of the season due to a facial fracture. Lillard is expected to be back soon, but Dean will in all likelihood start the opener against Sporting Kansas City.

Lillard could be an upgraded depth option, but may not be an impact rookie. Ramos gives the Fire improved depth at fullback and could be valuable given Polster’s past of knee injury flare ups.


The players behind the defenders will have a more different look than the defenders. Richard Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland return, but don’t bring much MLS experience to the table. Sanchez made two starts with the Fire last season as an in-season replacement once it was known Jorge Bava would miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury. Matt Lampson is also gone and is now starting for Minnesota.

The Fire still don’t have the typical three goalkeepers under contract, but Patrick McLain, the No. 3 in 2016, has been trialing with the team and played in the second half of Saturday’s preseason finale at Toyota Park.

As it stands, it’s a younger, less experienced group than what the Fire had in previous years with Sean Johnson and then Lampson and Bava in net, but having a more proven defense will help. Sanchez is likely the starter, but he has had an elbow injury that kept him out of action Saturday and has limited him in training. Cleveland, a second-round pick a year ago who hasn't appeared in an MLS match, could start the opener.

Fire defenders Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent called up to national team


Fire defenders Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent called up to national team

When the U.S. men missed the World Cup, it had a massive effect on many aspects of the game in this country, but two Fire players felt that in a more specific way.

Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent had both received call-ups to the January camp in 2016 and had breakout years of sorts in 2017. Both even had an outside shot of going to the World Cup, that is if the team had qualified.

Instead, both will have to put their sights on the 2022 edition and working their way into the team before then. Polster and Vincent both got called in to this year's version of the January camp, the annual, mostly domestic-based training camp during the MLS offseason.

Vincent received his first cap in the camp in 2016 in a friendly against Canada. Polster was in the camp, but didn't play. Polster was brought in to train with the Under-23 Olympic qualifying team, which also failed to qualify.

Former Fire coach Dave Sarachan will be the coach for the camp. Sarachan is a holdover from Bruce Arena's coaching staff and is in charge while the federation waits to name a replacement. With no competitive games on the schedule in 2018, there is no rush to hire a coach and waiting for the World Cup to end will give the U.S. more candidates to choose from.

After the qualifying failure, Polster said he held out hopes of forcing his way into the World Cup roster.

“The ultimate goal was that they’d qualify and hopefully I could make January camp and then I could turn some heads,” he said in October. “That was my thought process and I really wanted to give it a go. Hopefully I can do what I can to maybe help and be a part of it one day.”

Polster, 24, had shown positive signs in his first two seasons, but lacked consistency while playing in central midfield. This season he moved to right back, a position he played with the Olympic qualifying team, and was a revelation at the position for the Fire. His athletic ability and stamina made him a good fit for the position, although his positioning and crossing ability need improvement.

Vincent, 23, improved upon a rough rookie season to become a key cog at left back for the Fire. Both players benefit from playing at a position that the national team is not deep at, but that is especially true for Vincent, a naturally left-footed player. Left back has been a difficult position to fill for the national team for decades.

Players will report to the camp in California on Jan. 10. A friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy. As a result, both players are expected to miss the first portion of the Fire's preseason.

Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union


Notes from the rewatch: What stood out about the goals in Fire's win against Union

Normally when revisiting games there are trends or performances that stick out, but the most notable plays from Sunday's Fire win against Philadelphia were the goals.

Here's what stood out from the four goals that were scored from open play in the Fire's 3-2 victory.

Nikolic gives Fire early lead on long ball

Believe it or not this pass was a direct assist on the first goal of the game:

Brandon Vincent is barely beyond his own penalty box when he launches one for Nemanja Nikolic. The ball bounces three times before Nikolic gets his first touch on it. His second touch is a goal.

The pass itself is nothing special and a defensive error plays a part, but it's hard to believe a pass from that far back can result in an assist.

Philly’s first goal is a chain reaction

On the first goal for Philly, the play begins when Matt Polster is caught way too high in press. Philly was building out of back and Polster, the Fire's right back, pressed well past midfield to win a ball and didn't.

When he doesn’t win it, the ball falls to Fafa Picault behind him on the left wing. Next it's off to the races for the Union.

Center back Johan Kappelhof moves wide to cover for Polster and defend Picault, who makes a nice switch to Chris Pontius after the Fire appeared to be getting back in position. C.J. Sapong beats Joao Meira, who a minute before shook off a leg injury that forced him to have a significant limp after the match. Sapong probably had the edge in the first-step department at that point to get some separation. Kappelhof had to try to slide it away because Picault was waiting at the back post for a tap-in.

The Fire had a chance to recover, but it all started with Polster getting caught too high up the field.

Union string passes together to take lead

A Dax McCarty turnover gave Philadelphia possession and the Union combined passes for an impressive team goal. First it was eight straight passes before one was broken up, but Philadelphia immediately regained possession and connected 12 more passes. After an initial cross is headed away, the second pass after that is Haris Medunjanin chipping a pass to Alejandro Bedoya for the goal. Just an impressive team goal from the Union, even if goalkeeper Matt Lampson made things easier for Bedoya on the finish by coming off his line too early.

Nikolic shows his instincts for game-winner

As for the Fire’s third goal, just watch Landon Donovan and recently-fired New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps explain what happened:

(Note: The video appears to be down for some reason even though it's still linked on the homepage of The gist of it is that Nikolic did a great job delaying his run to find the space that set him up for the goal as opposed to crashing the six-yard box and being more tightly marked.)