Four Fire players wrap up international duty Tuesday night


Four Fire players wrap up international duty Tuesday night

Fire interim coach Brian Bliss will welcome four of his key players back to Chicago on Wednesday. 

David Accam (Ghana), Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), and Matt Polster (United States Under-23s) all went the full 90 minutes with their respective national teams on Tuesday, the final day of the FIFA international window. Accam featured in the 1-1 draw with Canada at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Cyrus and Jones featured 35 and 77 minutes, respectively, in the Soca Warriors' 2-1 win over Panama on Oct. 8, and were also involved in the team's scoreless draw against Nicaragua at Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Meanwhile, Polster and the U-23s avenged their disappointing 2-0 defeat to Honduras in the semifinal round of the Olympic qualifying championship with a 2-0 win over Canada in the third-place game in Sandy, Utah. Only a two-game, home-and-away series against Colombia next March now stands in the way of earning a berth in next summer's Olympics in Rio.

Polster helped Andi Herzog's men notch a perfect 3-0-0 record in Group A and featured in all five matches. The Fire rookie played the full 90 minutes in group stage wins against Canada and Panama, and the loss to Honduras. The 22-year-old also started and played 60 minutes in the U.S.'s 6-1 throttling of Cuba, and recorded an assist.

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“I’ve watched three of the four games so far that he’s played in in these qualifiers, and he's given a good account of himself," Bliss told reporters via teleconference Tuesday. "He’s shown a little bit of flexibility just like he has with us, and where he can play. He can play internally, he can play right back. They even used him in the last game in the second half as a right midfielder at some points. I’m not saying that’s his strong suit, but it’s showing a little bit of flexibility in his game, and he’s done well. So, kudos to him.”

The quartet's absence allowed Bliss to evaluate a batch of USL players during the bye week, and a couple of younger players from the Fire's youth ranks as well.     

“These first two days – yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) – have been light in terms of, not the work load, but the actual bodies in training," Bliss added. "We’ve supplemented with one or two guys we brought in from our Academy team that do well, and have earned that opportunity to come in and help us. It just was dumb luck that this early part of the week has coincided with a break in high school with Columbus Day and the teacher's workshop. ... Those kids have done well, and the level of play in general has not dropped off with those guys added in."

[RELATED: Bye week allows Bliss to fine-tune Fire, observe trialists]

Bliss said he would closely monitor Tuesday's matches, and is hopeful that Accam, Cyrus, Jones and Polster will all return to Chicago without any injuries. The team will have a day off on Wednesday before reconvening on Thursday and Friday to prepare for the final road match of the season against D.C. United.

“His game is being played in D.C., so that’s great for us," Bliss said of Accam. "The travel time and the distance to get back to Chicago is light compared to when he has to travel to West Africa for games. ... Hopefully he performs well, and comes out of it injury-free. He’ll be expected to be back here tomorrow, and then we’ll get him into a [regeneration] program with the other guys on Thursday. ... We’re expecting that to be the model.”

NOTE: After succumbing to an 8-1 defeat at the hands of Germany on Oct. 6, Homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez and the U.S. U-20s concluded the Four Nations Tournament with a 2-2 draw against Scotland (Oct. 9) and 3-3 draw against Mexico (Oct. 12).    

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.