Fire battle Impact, welcome familiar faces to Toyota Park


Fire battle Impact, welcome familiar faces to Toyota Park

When the Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact do battle on Saturday, it'll be the first of three meetings between the two sides in 2015. It also signals the return of former Fire forward (1998-99) and head coach Frank Klopas (2011-13) to Toyota Park for just the second time since parting ways with the club in October 2013, along with a quartet of other former Men in Red.

Inundated with the perpetual reminders, current head coach Frank Yallop insists it's just another game.

“Obviously, there are some connections with the club, with Frank [Klopas] being the coach here and now he’s in Montreal," Yallop said. "It’s about three points for this club and that’s all I care about. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

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The homecoming for defender Bakary Soumare (2007-09, 2013-14), midfielders Dilly Duka (2013-14) and Justin Mapp (2003-10), and forward Dominic Oduro (2011-12), however, may be of little or no avail for the visiting Impact, despite gathering momentum following back-to-back victories at Stade Saputo, thumping Real Salt Lake 4-1 and recording a 2-1 victory against an in-form FC Dallas. Mapp - nursing a surgically repaired, dislocated elbow - and Oduro - recovering from a groin injury - trained separately from the group as recently as Wednesday and appear unlikely to feature on Saturday. 

Klopas' outfit is winless at Toyota Park in four meetings with the Men in Red and is 0-18-7 in MLS away matches dating back to Sept. 8, 2013, when Patrice Bernier and Marco Di Vaio each netted twice to sink 10-man New England Revolution 4-2 at Gillette Stadium.

Since then, the Impact has been outscored 46-16 away from home, a comparable storyline to 2014 when the club finished the season in last place in the Eastern Conference behind the Fire. With 58 goals conceded, the Impact recorded the league's second-worst goal differential behind defunct Chivas USA and failed to win a single match away from home in the regular season. 

Aside from the auspicious arrival of Argentinian Designated Player Ignacio Piatti in July of last year, little has changed for an Impact side whose 2013 struggles infiltrated Klopas' first full season in charge. Unshakable success in cup competitions - strikingly delineated in this year's inimitable journey to the CONCACAF Champions League Final - has become the team's distinguishable trait in recent years, a keynote that Klopas has yet to resolve and replicate in MLS since beginning his tenure.

[MORE: Fire to provide in-game updates of Blackhawks-Ducks at Toyota Park

Having gone neck and neck in the Eastern Conference standings since 2013, though, the Fire and the Impact give the impression that 2015 will be no different. Six goals in the latter's previous two matches - an improvement from only three in its first five - have paved the way for the reemergence of the quick-fire attack while the former demonstrated its resiliency in the come-from-behind draw against Columbus Crew SC.

“We’ve been down in games and come back, we’ve been up in games and lost the lead; we’ve done it all this season,” Yallop added. “What I do like about the group is it didn’t quit, especially last weekend.

“We’re pretty excited that the team’s starting to look more dangerous in the final third.”

Despite succumbing to a 2-0 deficit just before the hour mark, the Men in Red refused to cave in. Goals from David Accam and Jason Johnson - the first from a center forward - helped the Fire mount a stout rally to save a crucial road point and kindle a previously dithering attack.

With six other Eastern Conference sides competing on Saturday - five of which sit above the Fire in the standings - three points against the Impact are a must and would work wonders as Yallop's group enters June, a pivotal month chock-full of solely in-conference fixtures.

Check out the video above to hear what else Yallop had to say about the match. Stay with CSN for complete coverage of Fire-Impact, beginning with Pregame Live at 7 p.m. CT before kickoff at 7:30 p.m. As always, be sure to tune in to @CSNChicagoFire on Twitter for in-game updates.     

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.