Fire

Fire defender Brandon Vincent picked up some extra bling

Fire defender Brandon Vincent picked up some extra bling

Brandon Vincent had a good ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ story when the Chicago Fire went on break in early June.

When the Fire took a week off of training in the first week of the Copa America Centenario break many of the players left town. Vincent went back to Stanford, where he helped the Cardinal men’s soccer team win the NCAA Championship for the first time ever.

Vincent was able to see familiar faces while visiting his old stomping grounds and received his championship ring.

Most of the team had received their rings earlier in the year, but Vincent left campus to participate in the MLS combine less than a month after the Cardinal won the national title in December.

“It’s good to see my friends and my old coaching staff and the guys that helped me get to where I am now,” Vincent said. “It’s kind of a quick turnaround not being there for the second part of the quarter to get the ring to celebrate the championship and everything, but it’s nice to be back and just be with the guys for a little bit and then reset and come back here.”

The turnaround for draft picks in MLS, especially after deep tournament runs, doesn’t leave much time to linger on campus. Just over a month after winning the national title, Vincent was drafted No. 4 overall and headed to the Fire.

The busy season schedule kept things moving for Vincent. His visit to Stanford provided a slightly different perspective for the rookie left back.

“It’s different when you’re in the moment and you’re in school and it’s like I want to be done and move onto the next step,” Vincent said. “Then once you’re at the next step you’re looking back. I appreciate it more when you’re back there and all the people that were a part of it.”

With the Fire, Vincent has made nine appearances, eight starts, in MLS play and played the full 120 minutes in the first U.S. Open Cup match against Indy Eleven right after the break.

After starting the first three matches of the season, Vincent didn’t play at all in April. He returned to the field on May 11, nearly two months after his previous appearance on March 19. Since then Vincent has missed just one match, which came in Colorado three days after playing 120 minutes in the Open Cup match.

Vincent admitted to an adjustment period early in the season and hopes he can keep improving.

“I’ve struggled here and there and I’m just trying to learn and keep my head on straight and keep going forward,” Vincent said. “Everyone is so much quicker and sharp on this level. It’s just a matter of getting the same wavelength with everybody else on the field and reading plays to kind of make plays offensively and defensively. Then just going forward, trying to be more accurate and precise with what I’m doing.”

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.