Fire

Fire crush 10-man Impact, remain unbeaten against Eastern Conference

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Fire crush 10-man Impact, remain unbeaten against Eastern Conference

As the rain pummeled Toyota Park on Saturday night, the Fire produced a laudable home performance in front of a mettlesome crowd of 15,256.

Behind an upper-90 strike from Harry Shipp in the 13th minute, a Jeff Larentowicz penalty kick on the stroke of halftime and Kennedy Igboananike’s first Fire goal, the Men in Red cogently beat 10-man Montreal Impact, 3-0, to grab their fourth win of the season.

“From our side of things, a very good home win,” head coach Frank Yallop said in his post-match press conference. “It’s always good to get three points out of a game like this when we dominated the match. I thought we just did a good job of everything tonight — the spirit, the will to win."

The onslaught was catalyzed early on as David Accam’s speed set the tempo. The designated player took matters into his own hands and ran at a rickety Impact back four, forcing converted right back and captain Nigel Reo-Coker into a mistimed tackle and a third-minute yellow card from referee Allen Chapman to match it.

[MORE FIRE: Shaun Maloney called up to Scotland, will miss trio of Fire matches]

With Joevin Jones’s tenacious running from his left back position causing problems early on, the Trinidadian joined Kennedy Igboananike, Accam and Shipp in the attack as the Impact were left chasing shadows.

“I was going to throw a lifejacket over to the left side in the first half,” Yallop said. “It was really wet, and the water was spraying up (from the grass).

“I think JJ has been excellent. David is electric; he’s still got a little bit of an ankle problem and his hamstrings are a bit tight, that’s the reason I took him out to rest him for Wednesday. They’ve got a good combination between them." 

The Fire, who did well to keep Montreal’s attack at bay, applied relentless pressure that eventually paid off. In the 13th minute, Igboananike stripped former Fire defender Bakary Soumare and threaded a ball into the path of an onrushing Shipp, who buried a left-footed effort into the upper-90 to give Yallop’s side a deserved advantage.

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In the 37th minute, the Impact were reduced to 10 men following a pair of late tackles from Impact midfielder Marco Donadel on Eric Gehrig and rookie Matt Polster, both of which were deemed bookable offenses.

The Impact’s defensive lapses were compounded a minute before halftime, with Soumare at fault once more. The Malian took Accam’s legs out in the penalty area, leaving Chapman no choice but to award a spot kick. Another cooly dispatched Larentowicz effort gave the Men in Red a favorable halftime lead.

After emerging from the break following a one-sided first half, the second half was a much more muffled affair as Frank Klopas’ outfit looked to quell the damage sustained in the opening 45 minutes.

That damage was only made worse as a knifing through ball from Razvan Cocis to a galloping Igboananike left the Nigerian through on goal with only ‘keeper Evan Bush to beat. A collected finish, however, put the icing on top of the cake on an impeccable home showing.

The victory moved the Fire up to eighth place in the Eastern Conference on 14 points, a vital step as the Men in Red turn the page and look forward to a midweek fixture against D.C. United.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-2-3-1): Jon Busch; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Joevin Jones; Matt Polster (Guly do Prado, 80'), Razvan Cocis; Harry Shipp, Shaun Maloney, David Accam (Quincy Amarikwa, 66'); Kennedy Igboananike (Jason Johnson, 75').

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.