Fire

After loss to Impact, Fire look to bounce back against Red Bulls

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After loss to Impact, Fire look to bounce back against Red Bulls

When Frank Yallop looks back on the Fire’s last 27 regular season games, putting a finger on a solitary factor that has confined his team to last place in the Eastern Conference has proven to be more complex with the passing of time.

Earlier in the season, scoring issues hampered a struggling strike force. Without 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee, a considerable goalscoring burden was placed on the shoulders of newcomers Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam – among others – who found it difficult to find their feet after making the leap from the Swedish first division.

Fast-forward a few months and you’ll find Yallop delighted to be praising both of his prime, offseason acquisitions who, on seven goals apiece, appear to have hit their groove alongside Gilberto, who notched his first goal for the club in the 4-3 defeat to the Montreal Impact. A crippling and conceivably decisive blow to their postseason hopes, the Fire’s 14th loss of 2015 – equaling their total recorded in all of 1999 – left a bitter taste in the mouths of many and brought a more pronounced bag of issues to the fore. 

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“We haven’t defended well as a group,” Yallop said Wednesday. “Anytime you concede four goals, you don’t deserve to win the match. … We’re not putting the games together where defensively, we’re solid and we can score three goals. It’s either or: we score goals and we concede them in the same game, or we can’t score and the team punishes us for one chance. We’ve just got to get that balance.”

That balance will have to be discovered quickly when the Fire (7-14-6, 27 points) close out their three-match road spell with a visit to Red Bull Arena to face the New York Red Bulls (12-7-6, 42 points) on Friday night (6 p.m. CT; UniMás).

Four of the Fire’s remaining seven games will be played away from home – including the trip to Harrison, N.J. – leaving no room for error if they are to make up the four-point gap that separates them from Montreal in the table. The Impact (9-11-4, 31 points) occupy the sixth and final playoff spot with three games in hand on the Men in Red and New York City FC (7-13-7, 28 points), and two on Orlando City SC (7-13-8, 29 points) and the Philadelphia Union (8-14-6, 30 points).

Eclipsing Jesse Marsch’s side – which is currently in the midst of an extended break following a 3-0 drubbing of fellow Supporters’ Shield contender D.C. United – will be no easy feat. But the Fire will be comforted by their impressive showing against the Red Bulls at Toyota Park just two weeks prior.

[RELATED: New Fire defender Daneil Cyrus ready to make his mark]

“Just in general, we haven’t really had a good feeling of how to see a game through or win a game 1-0,” Yallop said. “It comes with a bit of time, but we’ve got to figure it out. If we can get a win on Friday, it does open it up again for us. It’s a tough game, but we’ve played against them, and we outplayed them at home. We’ve got to go there and expect to do the same.”

With victory paramount against the Red Bulls in a difficult setting, Yallop will seek out the best composite of players that fit the bill, and will surely benefit from having all of his first-choice starters back from international duty. The return of Accam will supply the Fire with more speed and natural width, while Joevin Jones and Matt Polster – to go along with Ty Harden’s recovery from a hamstring injury and Daneil Cyrus’ long-awaited arrival – will collectively provide more balance within the side to help nullify the Red Bulls’ high-press approach.

“We have to be comfortable defending in our own half, we have to be comfortable defending as a group,” captain Jeff Larentowicz added. “In an MLS game, there’s always going to be times when you give up chances, and you have to be able to weather those storms.”

Viewing information:

New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.

Broadcast: UniMás, Univision Deportes       

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

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USA TODAY

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.