Fire

Nelson Rodriguez teases new Fire additions coming

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Nelson Rodriguez teases new Fire additions coming

The Fire season is only four games old, but general manager Nelson Rodriguez teased more players will be joining the team in May.

Rodriguez spilled the big news on the Chicago Fire Weekly radio show on Saturday morning, ahead of the 1-0 win against the Philadelphia Union, saying the Fire have signed one midfielder and are expecting to add another player soon after.

“We have a signed contract with a young midfield player," Rodriguez said in the interview. "We won’t make that announcement for another week-to-10 days and that’s at the request of the team from whom the player is coming, which is involved in some important matches. It’s a central midfielder who we believe will complement our existing group and give us a little bit more size in there. A great intensity and desire to win, good in the aerial game and we think that that player will help us. We expect that player to join the team in early May, perhaps sooner, depending on the results of his team. That player will come on a loan with an option to purchase a contract.”

The second player is more of an attacking player. Both are international players.

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“We’ve also, although not contracted, we’ve reached agreement on all terms for a forward who can dabble a little bit wide and dabble a little bit as an attacking midfielder," Rodriguez said. "Really a goal scorer. Someone else who can help us with offensive efficiency. A player who is more experienced, has a proven goal-scoring record. We anticipate that that contract will be signed this month and that the player will join us before the end of May. We believe we’ll complete that in time inside of the first transfer window for MLS.”

The MLS transfer window closes on May 11 before reopening on July 4.

The Fire's revamped defense seems to be showing improvement with back-to-back shutouts, but possession play and finishing are still two areas of concern for the team. Paunovic said as much after the win against the Union. The Fire finished with 53.9 percent of the possession, and while a red card in the second half helped the Fire in that area, they were able to edge the first half possession with 50.6 percent.

“We improved our possession," Paunovic said. "We improved other parts of the game, too. I think we created a lot of opportunities again. We have to improve our finishing. Finishing is still something we have to improve."

The two additions Rodriguez talked about could help in these areas. Rodriguez added that the Fire may look within the league for other acquisitions. The final player movement nugget that Rodriguez gave was that he doesn't expect the Fire to be very active internationally in the MLS summer transfer window.

"Part of that will be, while we still have some funds remaining and at our disposal and those are MLS-centered funds, our scouting and recruitment is not evolved enough," Rodriguez said. "First, I have a concern about how good of a job we can do identifying and making sure that we’d be getting the right person. Secondly, history has shown that players who come midseason off of a full and complete long season tend to struggle in their first year in MLS. That’s why we’ve pushed for these two signings in this first window so that the players can join us in May. We can acclimate them, give them rest, still get them ready and have enough season left for them to make a difference."

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.