Fire

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time'

If you build it, they will come.

The Chicago Fire have built a competitive and interesting team, full with a big name star in Bastian Schweinsteiger. So when the Fire played against the defending MLS Cup champs on one of the first nice Saturday nights of the spring, a big crowd came in the form of a sellout.

The announced crowd of 20,153 witnessed a 4-1 Fire win against the Seattle Sounders. It was the Fire’s first sellout since Sept. 19, 2015 when Kaka came to town with Orlando.

The three-goal victory was a good advertisement by the team to get some of these fans to come back. The players also noticed the boost it gave them on the field.

“It was a great atmosphere today at the stadium,” Schweinsteiger said. “As you could see it helped us. I hope for the next home match it’s going to be the same.”

Matt Polster, who made his season debut off the bench after missing the first two months of the season due to injury, is one of the team’s longest tenured players. He said he has not many crowds this good in his three years with the Fire.

“I think that was the best crowd in quite some time,” Polster said. “I think the fans are always good, but I think this was a different level tonight.

“It’s easy when the fans are chanting and they’re just cheering you on. I think that gives us an extra little bit of energy. I think it showed tonight in the result.”

The Fire have recently been looked at as one of the team’s lagging behind compared to other franchises in Major League Soccer. The on-field results have dipped (back-to-back last place finishes and one playoff appearance in the last seven years) and attendance has ranked in the bottom five each of the past four years.

That's not a good look for a team in the third biggest market in the country when more teams are drawing big crowds and the league’s average attendance has gone up each of the past four years. Saturday showed a step in the right direction, both in the stands and on the field with a 4-1 win.

“The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It’s not only one game. This is the general feeling that our team has in the locker room, outside of the locker room, when we are downtown in the city, wherever we are we can feel there is a passion about the team.”

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.