Fire finish home schedule against New England today on CSN+

Fire finish home schedule against New England today on CSN+

Just three days after tying Columbus to eliminate the Crew from playoff contention, the Chicago Fire can play spoiler again in the home finale.

The Fire host the New England Revolution, which sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, on Sunday. A loss for New England (10-13-9, 39 points) would virtually eliminate the Revolution, barring a shocking double-digit turnaround in goal differential, while even a tie could see them eliminated if Philadelphia tie or beat Orlando. All five Eastern Conference games on Sunday will kick off at the same time to create extra drama around tight playoff scenarios like this.

The game will be televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The match will kick off just after 2 p.m.

It is the Fire’s final home match of the season. Picking up one more win in front of the home fans is something coach Veljko Paunovic emphasized after the draw against Columbus.

“This game we have to win it for our fans because the people supporting us during the whole year, we appreciate that,” Paunovic said. “We got to give them a win next game. Guys we got to win.”

The Fire have a 5-3-8 record at home, which is tied with three other teams for the fewest home wins in the league. The team is hoping to leave Toyota Park for 2016 with a good memory.

“It was disappointing to not to get the win for the fans (against Columbus) and for us, but I think we need to move past it now and try to get those three points on Sunday against New England,” midfielder Matt Polster said.

In addition to trying to finish with a win to close out the home schedule, the Fire (6-16-10, 28 points) are trying to keep hope alive to avoid finishing in last place in back-to-back seasons. Houston is five points ahead of the Fire.

Both the Fire and Revolution enter without any significant injuries and Paunovic has said he intends to play a strong lineup to try to get the win as opposed to rotating the squad to give younger players some minutes.

“I want to see our guys working hard and giving our best to win the game,” Paunovic said. “That’s all I want for the next game and we have to do everything to do that.”

This will be the fourth time the Fire and Revolution meet in 2016. All three previous meetings were New England wins in Foxborough. New England won 2-0 on May 14, 1-0 on July 23 and 3-1 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal on Aug. 9.

New England has won four of its past five matches to get back in the playoff race. Juan Agudelo has scored three goals in that stretch while Kei Kamara has had two goals and two assists.

Typical play-by-play announcer Dan Kelly will be doing a national broadcast for Sunday so Michael Watts will be taking his place alongside Frank Klopas in the booth.

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.