Fire fall to Real Salt Lake despite late rally at Toyota Park


Fire fall to Real Salt Lake despite late rally at Toyota Park

In the Chicago Fire's first game at Toyota Park since a 1-0 victory over expansion side New York City FC, the Men in Red saw their hopes of a fourth consecutive home win dashed after a 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Goals from Alvaro Saborio and Luke Mulholland sealed RSL's third win of the season and ended their scoreless streak at 510 minutes, while the Fire's fifth loss of 2015 sends Frank Yallop's side back down to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I wasn't happy with the first half performance," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "Our energy wasn't there. The effort in the end was kind of there, but it was too late. We didn't think smartly and we didn't really make that final pass again.

"It was a disappointing afternoon, but I'm not going to fault the whole group. They didn't cave in; they kept going and could have gotten something in the end, but our first half performance was quite poor from us."

After emerging with a hard-fought point against defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night, Jeff Cassar's outfit showed little signs of fatigue as they kept the Men in Red at bay in the opening stages before a nice passing sequence in the 14th minute gave the visitors an early advantage. A square ball from recent U.S. U-20 call-up Jordan Allen to forward Alvaro Saborio opened up the Fire defense, as his ensuing strike from the edge of the area flew past a diving Sean Johnson.

Two minutes before the break, the Men in Red nearly drew level after a fine corner-kick delivery from Designated Player Shaun Maloney found an unmarked Lovel Palmer in the box, only to see is volley hit the ground and bounce over Nick Rimando's goal. The lack of conviction and a finishing touch was evident once again, as the Fire finished out the half with 21 crosses, seven corner kicks and six shots, none of which yielded an effort on target.

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In the second half, the frustration was felt yet again after Guly do Prado found himself in open space and bursting down the right side, but his cross-shot was unable to find the feet of a lurking Quincy Amarikwa.

The Fire were left to rue the missed opportunity as RSL found the eventual game winner through midfielder Luke Mulholland two minutes later. Allen was at the heart of the move once more and slipped a ball through to Devon Sandoval, who laid one into the path of Mulholland to tuck a sliding shot away past Johnson in the 56th minute.

For the remaining half hour, the Men in Red found the verve that was nonexistent throughout the greater part of the match, as Yallop sent on Kennedy Igboananike and debutant Jason Johnson to help rescue a point.

It nearly paid dividends as Maloney earned a penalty in the 88th minute, which captain Jeff Larentowicz buried to give the Fire a glimmer of hope going into the five minutes of stoppage time that followed, in which the Men in Red continued to pin a staunch RSL back four deep into their half.

[RELATED: Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes]

Despite multiple attacking breaks, a lack of execution and some fine saves from Rimando to keep the Men in Red at arm's length, good game management and clinical finishing from the visiting side was enough for them to walk away with three points from Toyota Park.

"It's frustrating," Yallop said. You look at the game as a whole and you say 'did we deserve to win?' Maybe not, but did we deserve to lose with the general play? Maybe not. It's a game of goals and we only scored one from a penalty kick.

"We've just got to keep going and not lose faith in what we're doing. We're getting in certain spots on the field well, I think we're overlapping well, our switching of play was good, our general play was what we talked about, but just that final play, that cutting edge and confidence wasn't there."

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz, Adailton (Jason Johnson, 84'), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Matt Watson (Razvan Cocis, 53'), Matt Polster, Shaun Maloney; Guly do Prado (Kennedy Igboananike, 58'); Quincy Amarikwa.

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.