Seattle Sounders

Statement win: Fire pour it on to knock off defending champ Seattle in front of full house

Statement win: Fire pour it on to knock off defending champ Seattle in front of full house

As far as making a statement, Saturday’s from the Chicago Fire was pretty good.

The Fire thumped the defending champion Seattle Sounders 4-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd and a national TV audience on Saturday.

The Fire (4-3-3, 15 points) scored three second-half goals to pull away from the struggling Sounders (2-4-4, 10 points). Nemanja Nikolic scored a pair of goals and David Accam and Luis Solignac each had one.

The Fire took the lead in the 25th minute following a bizarre sequence. Nemanja Nikolic was awarded a penalty kick after going down in the box even though replays showed that the tackle may have been clean. David Accam's penalty was saved by Stefan Frei, but the ref had it retaken due to both teams having players entering the box early. The second time Nikolic stepped up and scored for his seventh goal of the season.

It didn’t take long for Seattle to answer though. Clint Dempsey was given room from just outside the box and stepped into a wicked left-footed shot three minutes after Nikolic scored.

The Sounders went into halftime with 61 percent of the possession, but things flipped in the second half. Coach Veljko Paunovic moved from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3, moving Dax McCarty directly in front of the two centerbacks to close off the open areas like the one Dempsey scored from.

"From there we took over the possession," Paunovic said of his team, which had 57 percent possession in the second half. "With that change, it helped the team to have the possession, stop their progressions and when we switched to 5-3-2 formation after we scored the second goal I think we definitely took over control of the game and we had a lot of opportunities from the flanks and going from inside out and outside back in and that’s how we scored the rest of the goals. I think the key was taking the possession away from Seattle."

[RELATED: Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time’]

Accam gave the Fire the lead an hour into the match, finishing off a pretty combination of dribbling and short passes between Drew Conner, Bastian Schweinsteiger and de Leeuw.

Later in the half, Matt Polster subbed on for his season debut and Jonathan Campbell also entered. The 5-3-2 formation helped the Fire lock things down defensively, as Paunovic noted, and led to goals from Luis Solignac and Nikolic's second three minutes apart.

Nikolic's eight goals tie him with Mike Magee for the most goals in the first 10 games with the Fire.

“It gives us confidence," Schweinsteiger said. "Of course Seattle is a good team. They have very good players. They won last year, but we are more focused on our game style, on our philosophy, what we have.

"We are a very good team when we understand the game, when we are moving, when everyone is giving options and when we close the gaps and make it difficult for the opponent to play so today we made a very good job, especially in the second half. Now we just have to keep going, keep working and take all the confidence what we got today for the next match and maybe play 90 minutes like today (in) the second half.”

The Fire improved to 4-0-1 at home after going winless on a three-game road trip right before this. Paunovic believes the team's improvement has been consistent despite the lack of wins on the road.

"We always say this is the best game, this is the best game so what I’m trying to say is that we can see that there is a consistency and improvement in our team," Paunovic said. "When we play at home that improvement is more evident, but also I think the stretch we had on the road also helped us to forge that mentality and that great improvement we had so far in the season, especially in the last game against LA. Finally we completed a full game with a very consistent performance in both halves, especially in the second one."

Juninho sat out the match due to an ankle sprain. Michael de Leeuw returned to the starting lineup for the first time in three matches.

The Fire play at Toyota Park again on Wednesday, against Colorado.

Facing defending MLS champ Seattle is 'a great motivation' for the Fire

Facing defending MLS champ Seattle is 'a great motivation' for the Fire

After going through a three-game road trip with one point, the Chicago Fire return to Toyota Park with the reigning MLS Cup champions awaiting them.

The Fire (3-3-3, 12 points) host the Seattle Sounders (2-3-4, 10 points) on Saturday at 8 p.m. It is an opportunity for the Fire to pick up a statement win against the defending champs, albeit the somewhat struggling defending champs, in front of a national TV audience.

“It will be nice to be back home,” Fire midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We’ve won a couple games at home. Obviously if you want to be a playoff team you have to win your home games.”

The Fire are undefeated at home (3-0-1) and the Sounders have just one win in five road matches (1-2-2). Seattle is coming off a pair of disappointing games at home. First was a 3-3 draw against New England in which the Sounders trailed 3-0 after 70 minutes. Next was a 1-0 loss against a Toronto team which sat a few key starters, including former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco.

Seattle actually has a worse record through nine matches than last year when the Sounders made a miraculous closing run to the regular season to get into the playoffs and then stayed hot in the postseason. The Sounders were 4-4-1 a year ago and then won just two of the next 12 matches.

Despite the Sounders’ inconsistency to begin 2017, the Fire are still looking at this match as a way to prove a point.

“The current champion, it’s always a great motivation,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “They are a fantastic team, a lot of good players, great coaching staff, culture. They have it all. We also believe that motivates a lot. We also believe that we are ready. We are very close to be the team that we want to be and we will work hard towards that goal.”

[MORE FIRE: Drew Conner moves positions to make first MLS start]

“Seattle is a good team,” Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “They won last year. We know that. They have also very good players. They try to play so much as they can. They have a very good player with Clint Dempsey. We are looking forward to competing with them, but we are more focused on our game.”

Dempsey has three goals and an assist, showing that he is still a dangerous player after sitting out the latter half of 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat. Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro is still keying the attack with three goals and four assists. Former Fire left back Joevin Jones has emerged as one of the top attacking fullbacks in the league with five assists.

The match also marks a second return to Toyota Park for former Fire homegrown player Harry Shipp, who was traded by Montreal to Seattle in Shipp’s second trade is as many offseasons.

“Really talented from top to bottom,” McCarty said. “A lot of different ways they can hurt you. A lot of good attacking players and when their attacking players are clicking they’re one of the toughest to defend in the league.”

On the downside, Jordan Morris has just two goals after netting 12 in his rookie year. Seattle may miss both of its regular centerback pairing. Roman Torres (out with a hamstring injury) and Chad Marshall (questionable with a back injury) are both hurt.

For the Fire, midfielder Juninho is listed as questionable with a right ankle sprain. If he is unable to start that could move the Fire to a different formation. Potentially the Fire could lineup in a 4-4-2 with Michael de Leeuw pairing with Nemanja Nikolic at forward or Paunovic could elect to return to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Schweinsteiger sitting deeper and next to McCarty in midfield with de Leeuw playing underneath Nikolic.

Either way, the Fire are hoping to snap a three-game winless streak.

“We haven’t won in three games now and that’s unacceptable so we need to get back in the win column,” McCarty said.