Fire look for fast start to season at Columbus

Fire look for fast start to season at Columbus

The excitement of a new season just around the corner was in full effect for the Chicago Fire.

The team made some upgrades in the offseason and head into Saturday's match at Columbus with genuine reason for optimism. The season opener will be live on CSN with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

All the excitement leading into a season opener came to a bit of a halt when news broke on Friday that one of those key offseason acquisitions, Brazilian midfielder Juninho, will be suspended for Saturday's match in Columbus. Juninho will be out due to a red card received in his last game with Mexican club Tijuana in November. Paul Tenorio first broke the news on twitter.

Juninho's absence will mean the anticipated central midfield pairing of him and Dax McCarty will have to wait until next week's home opener against Real Salt Lake.

Matt Polster would have been the likely replacement in central midfield, but he has been out for most of the preseason with a knee injury and is not available for Saturday's match. That makes the possible replacements John Goossens, who has been used more as a winger with the Fire but has also played centrally, and Drew Conner, a second-year homegrown center mid who did not make any appearances with the Fire last season. Another option is to have Joao Meira, a central defender who at times played in the midfield last season, take Juninho's spot and go with Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhof as the centerback pairing.

Regardless of who is available, in the week leading up to Saturday's match, the Fire had talked about the importance of getting off to a hot start this season.

"I think the staff is pretty confident about the season, but we want to stay on the ground," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We want to build expectations as the season starts and move forward. That's what I'm emphasizing and focusing on because it doesn't mean the good start will give you a great season, but it's important."

One of the interesting dynamics with the match will be Columbus' possession-based style against the Fire's ability to counter. The Crew led MLS in possession last season while the Fire were last. While the Fire may have relied on the counter anyway, not being able to see how Juninho and McCarty match up against a possession-based team would have been a good early test for the Fire's new midfield.

[RELATED: 2017 MLS Eastern Conference preview]

Columbus' front four is the same as last year with Ola Kamara coming off a 16-goal season (in just 25 matches and 20 starts) and playmaker Federico Higuain and wingers Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay in support. Kamara's participation in the match is also uncertain. He is listed as questionable on the injury report due to "concussion symptoms."

Columbus' defense has been reworked a bit with the acquisition of Ghanaian national teamer Jonathan Mensah. The center back will likely play alongside countryman Harrison Afful, a right back. That means Fire winger David Accam will be facing off against some familiar faces and national team teammates on Saturday.

The goalkeepers for both teams will be making MLS debuts. Jorge Bava, another offseason signing, is expected to start with the Fire. Returning keeper Matt Lampson is questionable with a knee injury that limited him this preseason. Columbus will start 21-year-old Zack Steffen, who the club acquired from Bundesliga club Freiburg late in the 2016 season.

The two teams were the bottom two in the Eastern Conference last season, but are both expecting to be better in 2017.

"There is a very good tough opponent that we have to face on the road," Paunovic said. "We know that our record in the past wasn't great on the road. That's where we have to change the mentality and this is the opportunity."

After finishing last in the league for two straight years, the Fire are hoping to prove this season and this team is different. Nemanja Nikolic, a newcomer to the team, emphasized the importance of starting with a win.

"If we win it gets our confidence up for every player, for the team, for the supporters," Nikolic said.

Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew

When: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Mapfre Stadium, Columbus, Ohio


MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

USA Today

MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

MLS soccer is coming back this summer.

The league announced a plan to have all 26 MLS clubs resume play on July 8 with a league-wide “MLS is Back Tournament.”

The games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, without fans in the stands.

Here’s how it will work:

Clubs can arrive in Orlando to begin training on June 24. Then a group stage will begin July 8 followed by a knockout stage, starting July 25.

There will be six groups, three for each the Western and Eastern Conferences. The group stage draw will occur on June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Each team will play three group stage matches, and the results from those games will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings.

Then the top two teams from each group, plus the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage. That stage starts with a round-of-16, followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and then the championship game. The championship game will be played on August 11.

In case of a tie at the end of regulation in the knockout stage, games will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

The winner of the tournament will earn a berth in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

At the conclusion of the tournament, MLS will resume its regular season followed by the MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup.

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MLS cancels three marquee events in wake of coronavirus, reschedules for 2021


MLS cancels three marquee events in wake of coronavirus, reschedules for 2021

Major League Soccer announced Tuesday the cancelation of three marquee 2020 events in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 MLS All-Star Game, Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup have all been canceled, the league announced Tuesday. Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif. was set to host the All-Star game on July 29, and MLS said the 2021 event is now expected to take place at the same venue. 

MLS will resume negotiations with LIGA MX with hopes of squaring off in the 2021 exhibition match.

The second annual Leagues Cup tournament was set to occur between July and September, featuring top MLS and LIGA MX teams. The two leagues canceled the event in a joint decision and plan to play the tournament next year.

Similarly, MLS and LIGA MX jointly canceled the Campeones Cup, which features the reigning MLS champion against the LIGA MX's Campeón de Campeones winner. The 2020 event was scheduled for Aug. 12 at CenturyLink field, home of Seattle Sounders FC. It will return in 2021.