Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card


Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card

Through the first 15 minutes it appeared the Chicago Fire were going to be in the middle of another wide open, high-scoring match.

However, after host Orlando City and the Fire both scored early goals the Fire defense tightened up. Despite playing down a man for an hour, the Fire were able to hold on for a 1-1 draw on the road.

Cyle Larin got Orlando (0-0-2, 2 points) on the board in the fourth minute. He found some space between Fire defenders Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhof, but Campbell recovered to block Larin's initial shot. However, the ball then landed right at Larin's feet and he fired home.

The Fire (0-1-1, 1 point) struggled to keep possession for much of the first half, but were able to find some chances on the counter thanks to the speed of David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike. In the 14th minute one of those chances turned into a goal. The Fire cleared the ball from the defensive zone and Accam chased the bouncing ball on the Citrus Bowl turf and burned Seb Hines to create a breakaway on goal. Accam finished for his second goal in as many games.

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The match took a turn in the 32nd minute when Michael Harrington received a red card for going into a tackle with a high foot. Orlando held nearly 70 percent of the possession in the first half, dominating even before Harrington was sent off. Once the Fire played down a man, they were forced to sit back and play on the counter the rest of the way.

Orlando finished with 65 percent of the possession, but the Fire were able to absorb the pressure. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic went with a three-man back line with rookie Jonathan Campbell making his first start alongside Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof. Brandon Vincent and Harrington played as wing backs, pushing up for wide play when they could.

[MORE: Fire-NYCFC match draws record international ratings]

Orlando did get a few good chances in the second half, but goalkeeper Matt Lampson came up with some big saves. In the 78th minute Kevin Molino hit a laser of a shot off the outside of the post. A minute later Larin was free on the left side for a shot, but Lampson was able to get a piece of it and that one also ricocheted off the post. A minute after Larin's chance, Molino got free in the middle of the Fire defense, but Lampson got off his line to snuff out the chance.

After being derided in the opening loss to NYCFC, Lampson had a solid game. He wasn't put under as much pressure in terms of distribution, but made the saves he needed to on Friday.

Friday's match also marked the debut of John Goossens. Goossens played 73 minutes before being replaced by Razvan Cocis. He had a quiet game other than a nice chipped pass to Kappelhof that nearly resulted in a Fire goal in the second half.

One point through two matches is less than ideal for the Fire, but coming up with a point on the road while playing down a man for so long is a positive. Accam was again the Fire's best player by a wide margin and will surely again play a big role when the Fire host Columbus on March 19.

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.