Fire come up short in comeback bid against Toronto

Fire come up short in comeback bid against Toronto

David Accam has been a difference maker all season for the Chicago Fire and that continued Saturday.

The problem was Accam didn't start the match and by the time he entered the match the Fire trailed by two goals. Toronto came to Toyota Park and left with a 2-1 victory.

Accam returned this week after playing two games for Ghana, most recently a substitute appearance in Russia on Tuesday. Coach Veljko Paunovic inserted Accam in the 56th minute and he made an immediate impact.

Accam dribbled into the box and found John Goossens just two minutes after subbing on. After a deflection, Michael de Leeuw, ever the opportunist, was there to head in the loose ball.

Not starting a player fresh off international duty has been mostly common practice for Paunovic this season so it wasn't necessarily a surprise or controversial decision. Still, when asked if starting Accam would have made a difference in the result, Paunovic admitted it "probably would have."

"But that’s something we can’t go back and regret because the decision was common," Paunovic said. "We spoke before the game. David said that after the break with the national team and the long travel, he didn’t feel like starting and that’s it. We want our guys to participate in the decision."

Accam said he is always ready, but did not complain about coming off the bench.

“I feel great and for me I was happy to go on the pitch to help the team, but it wasn’t enough," Accam said. "For me personally I feel really good.”

Paunovic went with the same starting lineup as in the win against Philadelphia last week. Accam and David Arshakyan both came back from international duty as subs in the second half. It was Arshakyan’s home debut.

Jozy Altidore stayed hot with his sixth goal in eight games to give Toronto (13-8-7, 46 points) the lead. Fire forward Luis Solignac drew a reaction from the home crowd when he danced around the ball to get free in Toronto’s half, but he immediately followed that up with a bad pass that allowed Toronto to counter. TFC’s Justin Morrow later centered a ball to Altidore, who tucked it away for the opening goal in the 33rd minute.

Toronto doubled the lead in the second half with one Sean Johnson will want to forget. The Fire goalkeeper had no pressure on him and had the ball in his hands, but his throw went right to Altidore, who teed up Jonathan Osorio for the finish into the open net.

The Fire (6-13-8, 26 points) pressed for the equalizer, but were not able to score again against the league’s second stingiest defense. The Fire have 57 percent possession, a season-high, and had nine shots, three on target, in the second half.

“It’s of course a downer because I think the first half we played very well," de Leeuw said. "We created chances. At the end we did this to ourselves."

Toronto took the lead in the Eastern Conference while the Fire missed out on three much-needed points. The Fire had a 12-match unbeaten streak at home between MLS play and the U.S. Open Cup.

The Fire finish the three-game homestand Friday against D.C. United.

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.