The Fire's full 2017 schedule is announced


The Fire's full 2017 schedule is announced

Thursday was Major League Soccer schedule day. The league released the 2017 schedule for all 22 teams.

The Chicago Fire already knew the season was opening at Columbus on March 4 followed by a March 11 home opener against Real Salt Lake, but the rest of the schedule was announced.

While specific broadcast information is still to come, CSN Chicago is once again the home of the Chicago Fire in 2017.

The full schedule is available here. For the second year in a row the Fire will have a stretch of home games early in the schedule. In 2016, the Fire had five of the first seven matches at home. This year the Fire will have four of the first six at home, with RSL, Montreal, Columbus and New England set to visit Toyota Park by April 15.

The Fire will not play in Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the regular season. Atlanta is playing at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in the beginning portion of the season. The Fire's third match of the season is at Atlanta and is the only regular season match at Atlanta.

After that stretch of home games, the Fire will have a three-game road trip at Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy, all playoff teams in 2016.

The Fire will host the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders on May 13.

Orlando City is opening its new stadium in 2017. The Fire will head there on June 4.

Later on in the schedule is a potentially tough stretch of three matches in eight days beginning at Philadelphia on Sept. 23, traveling to the West Coast for a match at San Jose on Sept. 27 before heading back home to host New York City FC on Sept. 30.

The final home game is Oct. 15 against Philadelphia and the final match is Oct. 22 at Houston. The match against Houston will be the only inter-conference match in MLS on the final day of the regular season. The league is having every team play on the same day to add potential drama to any playoff races. However, with an odd number of teams in both conferences there has to be one inter-conference matchup. The Fire and Houston get to be those teams on the final matchday.

With two expansion teams the league is now at 22 teams. That means there are eleven games out of conference and 23 in conference. The Fire will play Columbus, Montreal and New England three times and every other Eastern Conference team twice. The Fire will host New England twice and take two trips to Columbus and Montreal.

As for Western Conference opponents, the Fire will host RSL, Seattle, Colorado, FC Dallas, Vancouver and Minnesota and visit the LA Galaxy, Portland, Sporting Kansas City, San Jose and Houston.

The Fire will have only two weekday home games after having five at home in 2016. Both will be on Wednesdays in May. In general, the Fire will play five matches on Wednesdays, down from the seven Wednesday/Thursday matches in 2016.

There will be two and a half weeks between matches in July to break for the Gold Cup this summer. The Fire's only home match in July is the first day of the month. They will return home on August 5.

Sean Johnson's return to Toyota Park could be on Sept. 30. The longtime Fire goalkeeper is now with New York City FC. NYCFC plays the Fire on July 22 at Yankee Stadium before that September match in Bridgeview.

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.