David Accam has big night, Fire advance to U.S. Open Cup semifinal

David Accam has big night, Fire advance to U.S. Open Cup semifinal

As has been the case twice already this season, David Accam took a starring role in a U.S. Open Cup match for the Chicago Fire.

Accam had a goal and an assist in the Fire’s 3-0 win against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in an Open Cup quarterfinal at Toyota Park on Wednesday. Accam entered the match having scored all three of the Fire’s goals in cup games this season.

It didn’t take long for Accam to make his mark, earning and then converting a penalty kick not even five minutes into the match. Arturo Alvarez found him in space on the left wing and Accam was able to overcome a heavy touch in the box to get another touch before onrushing goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, who then tripped Accam.

"I had a lot of space," Accam said. "For us we tried to utilize the space they left behind and it paid off.”

After scoring the opener, Accam played provider with a highlight-reel caliber run through the Strikers’ defense. Accam won the ball at the halfway line and put the moves on Ft. Lauderdale defender Gale Agbossoumonde, making him fall over in the box. Accam then rounded Restrepo and sent a centering ball across the face of the goal for Michael de Leeuw to tap in.

“I just made a quick decision," de Leeuw said of his goal. "I was first searching for the first ball, but David dribbled through the left side and you know you can be there for the rebound. The ball fell for my feet.

"It’s good to score the second goal. It’s important and in the end the third goal was also important because we knew also it’s done. If it’s 2-nil and they score then you know it can be difficult, but at the end we played a good game.”

Accam played a factor in the third goal as well. Nick LaBrocca headed an Accam corner on target and Khaly Thiam scored on the rebound to make it 3-0 in the 51st minute.

"(The third goal) was actually the trigger for us to start with the Plan B, which was to rest guys and prepare for the next game,” coach Veljko Paunovic said.

De Leeuw was subbed off shortly after the third goal and Accam exited the match in the 72nd minute. The Fire's first sub came in the first half when Razvan Cocis picked up an injury that Paunovic described as a "very strong contusion" in his right calf.

The three-goal margin was the Fire’s first win by more than a goal this season. It was also only the second time the Fire have had a lead of more than a goal all season. The Fire led 2-0 against Columbus in the last round of the U.S. Open Cup before winning 2-1.

“I think today, especially in the second half, we had a great opportunity to rehearse how to play, how to control the game," Paunovic said. "After the third goal they dropped a little bit more so it was a great opportunity for us to learn how to manage these kind of games where you have the possession, where you have to build your play, be patient and be precise with the ball.

"First time for me this year where we were comfortable and we didn’t suffer that much, but that’s just one small step."

After Ft. Lauderdale held a slim 51-49 percent edge in possession at halftime, the Fire finished the match with 55 percent of the possession.

[SHOP: Get your own Fire home kit here]

It is the Fire’s fourth straight semifinal appearance in the Open Cup and fifth in the past six years. The semi will take place Aug. 9 against the New England Revolution, which beat the Philadelphia Union in penalty kicks in another quarterfinal. The Revolution are also the Fire's opponent in MLS play on Saturday.

“Semifinals, it’s not a small thing," Paunovic said.

The draw to determine the host of the semifinal will take place at 10 a.m. Central on Thursday.

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.