Fire

Fire 'primed and ready' for 'massive' USOC semifinal vs. Union

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Fire 'primed and ready' for 'massive' USOC semifinal vs. Union

In the moments after being dealt a 1-0 defeat by the Portland Timbers last Friday, a contingent of Chicago Fire members were left to take a dim view of a sixth loss against a Western Conference opponent.

Head coach Frank Yallop, as well as goalkeeper Sean Johnson and defender Eric Gehrig, each hailed the defensive shape of the team despite being undone by a fortuitous bounce that led to an opportunistic goal, dispatched by Portland’s Fanendo Adi. But after addressing a stinging 12th defeat on the year, the tenor of the conversation changed course as the three were then instantaneously showered with questions surrounding their next match.

“[Wednesday] can’t come soon enough,” Gehrig said.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

Well, it’s here, and it’s the small matter of a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the Philadelphia Union. With a berth in the final and the auspicious opportunity to host it at stake, the future is now for a club that has punched below its weight for the majority of the season.

The way things have shaped up thus far, fluctuating performances in league play have seen playoff hopes ebb and flow, with the club’s Open Cup fortunes giving the Fire more than enough hope to believe a first trophy since 2006 is within reach.

“First things first. We’ve got to get a result in Philadelphia,” Yallop said Monday via teleconference. “We’re primed and ready for that, but I think it’s massive for the club especially when the season hasn’t gone well in the league play. We’ve started to get our team looking like the team I envisioned and hopefully it’s enough to get past this game and go on and host [the Final] and do well. But I’m not getting ahead of myself. We have a tough, tough game in Philly that we’re getting ready for. We want to win that one and then look forward to the next one once that gets done.”

Since edging USL’s Louisville City FC, 1-0, in the fourth round on June 16, the Fire have gone from strength to strength in the competition. 3-1 victories over Charlotte Independence and Orlando City SC in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively, see the Men in Red on the cusp of surmounting the penultimate hurdle in hopes of challenging for a fifth Open Cup championship. That task, however, will present unique challenges against a Union team sitting one point above the Fire in the Eastern Conference table and with just as much to play for in hopes of salvaging a less-than-ideal year.

[RELATED: With win vs. Union, Fire would host U.S. Open Cup final]

The Men in Red will square off against Jim Curtin’s side at PPL Park on Wednesday and again four days later in regular season play, capping off two matches that, by Sunday night, could reasonably be categorized as defining moments in determining what the Fire are truly made of.

Having not won away from Toyota Park in 19 attempts across all competitions, Wednesday’s 11th semifinal appearance in club history and Sunday’s third and final meeting between the two sides will both be given equal attention.

“I feel we’ve still got a chance of making the playoffs,” Yallop added. “We’ve got games in hand, [including on] Philadelphia. They’re obviously right down where we are. We’ve got to go on a run, but at some point, teams do. I feel that we’re still capable of doing that. It’s not just, ‘Let’s get to the Open Cup final and blow the league off.’ That’s not the game plan. We’re hoping to win on Wednesday and win on Sunday. I would think that Philadelphia are probably thinking, hoping the same.”

Viewing information:

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. CT

Where: PPL Park; Chester, Pa.

Broadcast: Chicago-Fire.com, U.S. Soccer YouTube  

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.

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.