Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

After a long courting process and a few weeks of training with the Fire before he could play, Michael de Leeuw is set to make his Fire debut on Saturday.

The Dutch forward became eligible once Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window opened on the Fourth of July. Now de Leeuw can join the Fire attack for the match in Toronto.

“I’m excited,” de Leeuw said after training on Wednesday. “This is what the last weeks I trained for. I knew that after Fourth of July I was capable of playing so now I’m available and I hope to make some minutes Saturday and show my skills to MLS.”

The 29-year-old has been training with the Fire since the middle of June, but has been forced to watch the team’s past five matches. He said this week’s training has been different for him because he knows he can suit up to play the next match.

“That’s frustrating, but I knew it before I signed,” de Leeuw said. “So I knew how it was, but still it’s frustrating because you trained the whole week before you prepare for the game. If you can’t play then you train different. This week was different. I know I can play so I want to give a hope Saturday that I can play and give everything for the team.”

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Coach Veljko Paunovic said on Tuesday that de Leeuw will be in the team’s roster, but wouldn’t give a clue as to how much de Leeuw will play or how he will be used. Will he start? Will he come off the bench? How will he line up in the Fire’s formation?

“We are working on that,” Paunovic said. “It is good for us to have options and for sure we will use all our resources offensively in order to improve our performance in attack.”

The bigger question in the long-run will be how de Leeuw fits in tactically. The team is as healthy as it has been all season with every player expected to be available in Toronto.

David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the two other forwards on the roster. Neither is a true hold-up type forward and Accam is more of a winger. If you ask de Leeuw he will say he isn’t either. In his introductory press conference he described himself as a cross between a playmaker and a true striker.

Does that mean de Leeuw will slide somewhat underneath Igboananike with Accam still playing wide? Will Igboananike go the bench to make way for de Leeuw? That may not be answered even on Saturday with de Leeuw probably not at full match fitness.

“I don’t know, that’s a decision the trainer has to make,” de Leeuw said. “I think I always can play so for me it’s no problem, but that’s a choice the trainer has to make, not me.”

[MORE FIRE: John Goossens scores first MLS goal in Fire win]

As for de Leeuw’s off the field adjustment, he has an apartment in Chicago and is settling into the city. He also spent the Fourth of July with Dutch teammates John Goossens and Johan Kappelhof.

“Me and my girlfriend went to the beach,” de Leeuw said. “After that we went shopping in the city and then with Johan and John we watched the fireworks with their families.”

Fire fans will be hoping de Leeuw can create some fireworks of his own on the field starting Saturday.

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.