Fire

Fire, Orlando City settle for draw in weather-delayed match

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Fire, Orlando City settle for draw in weather-delayed match

The scene was set for the Chicago Fire to leapfrog multiple teams below the red line in the Eastern Conference standings Saturday night. With the Montreal Impact, New York City FC and Philadelphia Union all losing out in their respective matches, the Fire, with a win could've claimed sole possession of sixth place in the East.

After outlasting multiple weather delays and assuming a 1-0 lead at the half-hour mark, the Men in Red fell short of grasping their first road win of the season, however, instead settling for a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC. David Accam's strike in the 30th minute - his team-leading seventh of 2015 - was followed up by an own goal from Eric Gehrig in the 37th minute, enough for the Fire (7-13-6, 27 points) to pull level on points with the Union and jump to ninth place, while Orlando City (7-12-8, 29 points) dislodged the Impact - temporarily - of the sixth and final playoff spot.

Head coach Frank Yallop trotted out the same lineup that got him a 3-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. The only change was reflected on the bench, as defender Greg Cochrane returned from his loan stint with USL outfit Saint Louis FC to replace Mike Magee, who, per a coach's decision, did not travel with the team to Orlando.   

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Lightning strikes and booms of thunder in and around the area pushed fans inside the Citrus Bowl from their seats to the concourses several times before the match - scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. CT kickoff - resumed at 8:20 p.m. A crafty free kick in the 15th minute orchestrated by Accam and headed toward Tally Hall's frame was all there was to speak of before another lightning strike prompted referee Baldomero Toledo to send players and coaches back into the dressing room.

Play resumed around 9:45 p.m. in the 19th minute, with both sides continuing to set the tempo. It was Accam, though, who silenced the home crowd. The Ghanaian sped to save the ball on the endline with a quarter-hour left to play in the first half, cutting inside Orlando City right back Corey Ashe before sneaking a low shot inside Hall's near post to give the Men in Red the 1-0 advantage.

The lead was quickly snuffed out.

Seven minutes later, Lewis Neal sent an enticing delivery into the box to forward Cyle Larin. The rookie's flick-on header deflected off the head of Gehrig, looped up and over Sean Johnson's outstretched arms for the hosts' equalizer, later deemed an own goal.  

[RELATED: After win vs. RBNY, Fire crave encore performance at Orlando]

Heading into the halftime interval with less than 40 percent of possession, the Fire found themselves largely on the back foot throughout the second 45 and were fortunate to not concede. Adrian Heath's group spurned two golden opportunities late in the game - a Carlos Rivas shot from close range in the 82nd clanged off the post, and Darwin Cerén's stinging effort drew the save of the night from Johnson in second-half stoppage time.   

With the international window looming, the Men in Red will have to cope with two dropped points and missing players for their next Eastern Conference fixture. Accam (Ghana), Matt Polster (United States; U-23s) and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) will depart Orlando for international duty, and are set to miss the Fire's second match of their three-game road trip, a date with the Impact at Saputo Stadium on Sept. 5.   

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Harry Shipp, 60'), Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens, David Accam; Gilberto (Jason Johnson, 60'), Kennedy Igboananike.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

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USA TODAY

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.