Fire

Frigid afternoon can't cool down Fire in opener

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Frigid afternoon can't cool down Fire in opener

Saturday, March 26, 2011
Posted: 7:17 p.m.

By Dieter Kurtenbach
Contributor to CSNChicago.com

Goals from Diego Chaves, Gaston Puerari and Marco Pappa lifted the Chicago Fire to a 3-2 victory over 10-man Sporting Kansas City in the team's home debut.

The Fire earned their first win of the year in a testy affair on a frigid afternoon. The game kicked off with a stiff breeze and a just-quite freezing 32 degree temperature.

"Three points, first game of the year, I think we're happy about that," Fire midfielder and captain Logan Pause said. "Obviously we made it pretty interesting. The priority is the first game at home, setting the tone three points, crucial."

The Fire's first goal was scored on the counter attack half-an-hour into the game. A Kansas City free kick inside the Fire defensive zone was cleared with a lob pass over the Kansas City back line that a streaking Puerari took on a breakaway.

One-on-one with Kansas City goaltender Jimmy Nielsen, Puerari was fouled from behind by Kansas City striker Omar Bravo.

Referee Jasen Anno awarded a penalty kick on the foul, and after a two-minute verbal fracas that migrated from the penalty area to the sidelines and back, Bravo was given a red card and sent off.

In both of the Fire's games this season, their opponent has had to play a man down for significant time. Last week against FC Dallas, the Fire had a man advantage for 38 minutes. Saturday, it was nearly an hour.

Chaves took the penalty kick for the Fire, blasting a bending shot into the right corner of the net.

It was the second breakaway opportunity for Puerari in as many games. In the Fire's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last week, Puerari had a similar oppurtunity, but his shot was saved by Kevin Hartman.

Puerari broke through four minutes after the first goal, cutting in behind the Kansas City defense inside the penalty box in rhythm with a Michael Vidiera lead pass. The goal was Puerari's first of the year and first in MLS.

Chaves and Puerari both signed with the Fire coming from separate Uruguayan clubs in the offseason, and are best friends off the field. That chemistry has manifested itself in three of the Fire's four goals on the season.

"We have different styles, but the same mentality," Chaves said. "We know where the other is on the field, we know where the other guy moves,"

Pause isn't surprised at the tandem's success.

"I think it's important that they work when they have the ball, and they work when they don't have the ball, and that's so important in this league," Pause said. "I'm just happy they were both rewarded with goals tonight."

Kansas City pushed back in the second half, despite their player disadvantage. Teal Bunbury entered the game for the former Wizards at halftime and was able to create opportunities as a right wing and striker, exploiting the Fire's three-man defensive core.

Bunbury's play highlighted several minutes of sustained offensive pressure from Kansas City at the onset of the second half. Kansas City would break the shutout six minutes in, when Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson took an aggressive line to intercept a crossing pass and missed, leaving Kansas City midfielder Chance Meyers with an open net and plenty of time to strike.

Johnson took responsibility for the goal after the game.

"The second half they put a decent amount of pressure on us, and the first goal I should have dealt with it better," Johnson said. "I'll put that one on my back."

Marco Pappa scored in the sixtieth minute to reestablish the Fire's two goal lead. Summoning his inner Derrick Rose, Pappa went through four Kansas City defenders with an ankle-breaking drive to goal that started outside the penalty area.

"He's such a great player, and his head, it's always up," Chaves said of Pappa's goal. "I was to his right, and he was always looking to me, and just the look the guys came with me and he got his space."

"I think it was a lucky goal," Pappa said with a head shake and a chuckle.

Kansas City would get that goal back when Bunbury, serviced by a errant backpass from Chicago's Gonzalo Segares, beat Johnson on a breakaway in the seventy-third minute.

Pause said that the second-half defensive lapses are to be expected, given that it's early in the season and Kansas City had no choice but to full-out attack.

"It's tough when you're up 2-0, up a man, they're just throwing numbers forward, and they have to take risks," Pause said. "Some of those risks paid off for them."

Even if it's easy to excuse the goals, Pause called the second-half performance careless.

"Concentration, we let it slip a little bit. Those are things at this point of the year, we're kind of wiping our brow, saying 'phew, we got away with one' We'll take the three points."

With 12,157 in attendance on a not-ideal day, head coach Carlos de los Cobos was pleased that his team matched the intensity of the supporters with their play on the field.

"We need to create a very strong advantage for Chicago Fire here at home," de los Cobos said. "Last season we lost a lot of points, we lost games and the intention of this year is different, and I am very satisfied. I know we need to improve in some things, but what's most important is that players create a great community in each other, and they are fighting every minute."

"We have no stars this year," Chaves said of the team's mentality. "We're just players that want to take things how do you say? 'To put the Fire on the top.'"

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.