Bliss hopes to replicate past interim stint, win with Fire in Montreal


Bliss hopes to replicate past interim stint, win with Fire in Montreal

If the narrative of Brian Bliss provisionally setting aside his daily chores as technical director and taking up the role of interim head coach – and winning – sounds familiar, it should.

When Columbus Crew SC owner Andrew Precourt relieved then head coach Robert Warzycha of his duties in the latter stages of the 2013 regular season, Bliss deputized for the remaining eight games. Between Sept. 4-Oct. 27, he posted four losses, but won four matches – two of which came away from home – in the process and nearly helped push Crew SC into the postseason.

After overseeing his first training session as the Chicago Fire’s interim head coach on Monday, with interim assistant and current club Vice President Logan Pause and Head of Scouting Trevor James in tow, Bliss was quick to remind reporters of a befitting memory.

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“I had my first away victory with Columbus in Montreal,” he said.

On Wednesday, Bliss will patrol the technical area yet again and look to do the same as the Fire (7-16-6, 27 points) visit the Montreal Impact (10-11-6, 36 points) for the second time this month, the third and final installment between both sides this season (7 p.m. CT; My50 Chicago).

"It's going to take a good, collective effort," Bliss added. "I don't want to peg myself as a defensive coach, but in the last month and a half we've leaked more goals than we have in the first two-thirds of the year. We need to be more committed, sharper, not only individually but collectively. I think we have enough talent to score goals, but when you're scoring two or three on the road and still not getting results then you've got to start looking at the collective defending. I'm not saying we have to shut somebody out, that would be nice, but I just think overall commitment on the defensive side will help."

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In their last six away regular season fixtures alone - which dates back to a 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Aug. 7 - the Fire have leaked 13 goals. The team posted at least two goals and led in three of those six (a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 16, a 4-3 loss to the Impact on Sept. 5 and a 3-2 collapse against the New York Red Bulls). Before then, similar issues surfaced in back-to-back draws with New York City FC and Crew SC in May.

With only a month remaining and playoff hopes hanging by a thread, jobs are at stake and there's little room for error with more games left to play away from the confines of Toyota Park.  

“In this transitional period, I think we needed that,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said of the idea of team bonding throughout the weeklong stay in Canada. “We’re going to be together on the road for almost a week, and it builds character. We get to know the coaches a little bit more, how they like to operate. … Right now, it’s just about getting something positive. Be it a positive performance or something headed toward the right direction because that’s what we need. We’re just building toward the future and the next year, but it has to start now. We need to identify what we’re lacking and what we need to do to be successful as a team, and then buy into it and go from there.” 

[MORE FIRE: Busch, Nyarko take comfort in familiarity with Brian Bliss]

Viewing information:

Montreal Impact vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 7 p.m. CT

Where: Stade Saputo; Montreal, Quebec.

Broadcast: My50 Chicago

NOTE: Due to conflicts with the Cubs' and Blackhawks' schedule, the match will be shown on My50 Chicago with the regular broadcast tandem of Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan. MLS Live blackout will also be lifted to ensure fans will have access to watch.

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.