Notes from the rewatch: The Fire debuts of Nemanja Nikolic and Dax McCarty

Notes from the rewatch: The Fire debuts of Nemanja Nikolic and Dax McCarty

There are a lot of things to watch during a soccer game. It's not just what happens on or near the ball, but how all 22 players are moving and interacting at all times.

It's hard to catch many of these subtleties the first time watching a match. Consider this an experiment to point out the things that may take an extra viewing to notice, starting with the Fire's season opener at Columbus.

Counterattacks without numbers for the Fire

Columbus had nearly 56 percent of the possession time on Saturday, which is no surprise. Columbus' style under coach Gregg Berhalter prioritizes possession and the Fire have been a largely counterattacking team under coach Veljko Paunovic.

David Accam is one of the most dangerous players in the league on the counter and Michael de Leeuw and Nemanja Nikolic are proven finishers. Those three should make the Fire more efficient in front of goal, but in Saturday's match they struggled to get in dangerous situations, especially in the first half. There were three 3-on-3 situations, the best of which led to a Michael de Leeuw shot on goal followed by flurry of blocked shots in the 83rd minute, but a number of other 3-on-4 or 3-on-5 situations led to nothing and didn't stretch Columbus' defense.

The lack of support from the midfield may have been a tactical move, and maybe later in the season the attacking trio will have a better understanding of each other and will be more dangerous without the support, but on Saturday it didn't quite work.

Nemanja Nikolic's forgettable debut

Speaking of Nikolic, he didn't manage a shot on target despite leading the Fire with four shots. He was caught offside four times and on a couple occasions there were misunderstandings between him and a teammate over where a pass or run should have been.

The four offsides should not be a major concern at this point in the season. Nikolic may still be getting a feel for his teammates and how to time his runs.

Nikolic had a golden opportunity in the 15th minute when de Leeuw chipped a ball over the top for him between Columbus' two centerbacks. Nikolic couldn't quite cleanly control the ball and his shot went well over the bar. He also had a shot from a tight angle go high in the 42nd minute, put a header over the bar on a Michael Harrington cross in the second half and had one of the shots in the 83rd minute frenetic sequence blocked.

The Fire will need him to be more efficient in the future, but they still earned a point on the road and Nikolic should settle in with his teammates as the season progresses.

Dax McCarty's impressive debut

One Fire debutant who didn't need time to settle in was Dax McCarty. He didn't make a ton of obviously big plays, but he was involved in many of the Fire's best chances. Without Juninho, he was the lone true defensive mid in the center and Columbus largely struggled to create through the middle of the field.

When the Fire tried to build out of the back McCarty often dropped in line with the centerbacks and made the first pass into the midfield. As previously noted, the Fire seem to be built around the counterattack and McCarty comes from a team in the New York Red Bulls that usually had the majority of possession. He was able to make simple passes to move things along, but didn't always find a teammate ready to receive the pass he wanted to make.

He did actually find someone to complete a pass to on this play, but maybe it showed a lack of familiarity like with Nikolic. McCarty completed 59 of 68 pass attempts on the day. Only Joao Meira completed more passes (66) on the Fire.

If Saturday is any indication, McCarty isn't going to be a playmaker for the Fire, but he can put more players in spots to create chances. Accam's goal was a perfect example of this. McCarty intercepted a pass and quickly gave the ball to John Goossens, who played a through ball to Accam and he did the rest.

That wasn't the only chance McCarty had the secondary pass to start. On the breakaway chance that Nikolic hit over the bar, McCarty played a quick outlet to de Leeuw, who then chipped for Nikolic. When Luis Solignac had an open chance in front to give the Fire a late lead, McCarty spun away from a defender and then played a simple pass to Michael Harrington, who found Solignac with a cross.

It will be interesting to see how McCarty and Juninho play together in the home opener, but McCarty definitely showed what he brings to the table for the Fire in Columbus.

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

MLS announced on Tuesday that the Chicago Fire’s first game back after the season was suspended due to COVID-19 has been postponed.

The Fire were supposed to play Nashville SC on Wednesday in their opening Group A match of the MLS is Back tournament. But since arriving in Orlando for the tournament, five Nashville players tested positive for COVID-19 and four others received inclusive results, requiring more testing. As a result, MLS is now evaluating Nashville’s participation in the tournament.

The Fire will now return to play on July 14 against Inter Miami CF.

The Fire also announced that the Drive-In Matchday event that was scheduled for Wednesday’s game has been rescheduled for their July 19 game against New York City FC. Fans who registered for that event will have the opportunity to sign-up again for the new date.

This is the second Chicago pro sports match altered as leagues try to return to play. The Chicago Red Stars also had a game cancelled in late June due to Orlando Pride players testing positive for COVID-19.

As MLB, the NHL and the NBA gear up to return it remains to be seen how they will react in a similar situation.

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MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

USA Today

MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

MLS soccer is coming back this summer.

The league announced a plan to have all 26 MLS clubs resume play on July 8 with a league-wide “MLS is Back Tournament.”

The games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, without fans in the stands.

Here’s how it will work:

Clubs can arrive in Orlando to begin training on June 24. Then a group stage will begin July 8 followed by a knockout stage, starting July 25.

There will be six groups, three for each the Western and Eastern Conferences. The group stage draw will occur on June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Each team will play three group stage matches, and the results from those games will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings.

Then the top two teams from each group, plus the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage. That stage starts with a round-of-16, followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and then the championship game. The championship game will be played on August 11.

In case of a tie at the end of regulation in the knockout stage, games will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

The winner of the tournament will earn a berth in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

At the conclusion of the tournament, MLS will resume its regular season followed by the MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup.

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