Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson


Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson

The soccer world is heading into an international break and the off week comes at a good time for the Chicago Fire.

A few players are nursing injuries, but coach Veljko Paunovic sounded optimistic that the injuries are minor and that the full squad could play against Philadelphia on April 2.

David Accam, who missed Saturday's 0-0 draw against Columbus, was described as day-by-day by Paunovic during his weekly conference call with media.

"He is very positive that he can make it so we believe he will be ready," Paunovic said.

The injury to John Goossens, who left at halftime with a hamstring injury, was described by Paunovic as "not that serious." Paunovic said the Dutch midfielder should be able to rejoin the rest of the team in a couple days.

Arturo Alvarez also had some fatigue and soreness, according to Paunovic, and sat out training today. The combination of these injuries and players being away on international duty, like Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster, meant there were only 14 players available in training today.

[RELATED: Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster to join U.S. Olympic team]

Paunovic addressed how Sean Johnson is handling being the No. 2 goalkeeper after making more than 150 appearances with the club since 2010.

“I can tell you that he’s handling that very good," Paunovic said. "He works hard and he is someone that always helps his teammates. How he’s handled it, we appreciate it. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.

"From my point of view, I understand and I know what he’s going through. I’ve been through that and I understand and I know that every player wants to play. The situation with him is the same situation."

The Fire may have no plans to trade Johnson at the moment, and Paunovic denied any possible trades when asked, but he has an above average MLS salary for a goalkeeper. In a league with a very tight salary cap, having a well-paid backup goalkeeper isn't exactly an efficient use of resources. If the Fire viewed trading Harry Shipp as something beneficial for both sides when Shipp was no longer deemed a starter, it would seem the same circumstances apply to Johnson. There are certainly teams in the league that would view Johnson as an upgrade at goalkeeper.

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Another potential position battle could be emerging at right back. Rodrigo Ramos got his first start on Saturday after two substitute appearances in the first two matches while Michael Harrington served his suspension for the red card at Orlando.

“We are very happy with the performance of Rodrigo," Paunovic said. "We can see that he is ready now to play and now he has to compete for the spot like everyone else.

"Sometimes he carries the ball too much and that makes him lose a lot of energy, which we have to work on. He knows that, we told him. He’s a really great kid, very talented and on the other side he has to earn it. He can play as a right back, he can play in different systems. He can play in the last system we played, a 3-5-2, he can also be very useful in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3.”

The Philadelphia match will show if Paunovic thinks Ramos earned another start or if Paunovic sticks with Harrington as his starter.

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.