Fire

Fire eager to return after bye week

Fire eager to return after bye week

After losing to Montreal on April 16, the Chicago Fire had a bye week, which meant the team had to stew in that home defeat seven extra days.

Now the team is preparing to take on D.C. United on Saturday at Toyota Park. The team is back to a regular week of practice, but the extra wait after a loss is something the team has had to endure.

“After we lost our game against Montreal, you wanted the next game as soon as possible, but also we believe that we have to be patient," Paunovic said in his weekly conference call with the media on Monday. "We have to understand that we have a possibility to work for two weeks like we did, we have to take advantage of it.

"It’s always helpful when you have two weeks to prepare for the next game and recover and think about down the line and everything necessary in order to be better prepared for the next game after you lose a game. At the same time the guys who like to compete, and I think I am one of them and also in the locker room, we have a lot of guys who are impatient about next game, which is good. I like that very much because they want that payback. They want to show that we can be better."

One of the players who is certainly eager to get back to game action, but hasn't been able to do so for weeks, is David Accam. Without any game action to talk about, Paunovic's weekly David Accam injury update became a focal point of the conference call. For the first time in a few weeks, Paunovic finally sounded more optimistic about Accam, but also downplayed the chances of him coming back against D.C.

“The good news is he is progressing," Paunovic said. "He is at least feeling less pain and it is very located, which is good news. Having a meeting this morning with our doctors, they feel very comfortable with how he is improving and we will see. I don’t know for this game, but in the next couple of weeks we believe that David can be good to go.”

Accam has been in the Fire locker room after home matches while being out with injury and the usually jovial Accam at times looked like a kid who couldn't play in the park with his friends. Paunovic talked about Accam's mentality and gave a bit more detail about the ligament injury.

“He understands that he has to do his treatment and keep his emotions under control and not get frustrated," Paunovic said of Accam. "So far I believe everything in the process of recovery has been the natural process of a ligament injury where you need 6-8 weeks. Right now we are at six weeks. Six weeks of natural recovery helping the treatment with everything he is doing so far. I think we have to understand it’s not a minor injury and we have to be very, very smart in our approach to how we are going through this process of his recovery. He of course would like as quickly as possible to come back, but he is also very smart in how he is managing that excitement and desire to come back and start playing as soon as possible and help the team.

“We have to understand that we don’t want to make this injury worse.”

In addition to being given the OK from the Fire's medical staff, Accam will have to regain fitness after not being able to play. He has been able to be a partial participant in some practices during the injury so he won't be starting from scratch, but getting Accam back up to 90-minute fitness might take an additional week or two.

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.