Fire

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: The lack of a serious rally

The Fire have been doing a lot of losing lately, but Saturday's loss to Minnesota was another level of disappointment.

Considering the match was at Toyota Park and Minnesota was winless on the road, the Fire's 2-1 defeat was almost undoubtedly the worst result of the season.

There isn't much new to say about the game either. The Fire made defensive lapses that have occurred more frequently of late and struggled to score against a team willing to defend deep in its own zone.

Djordje Mihailovic made his second start, Bastian Schweinsteiger tried to be more influential and the Fire's second-half rally ended up not being much of a rally. Here's a look at all three of those things.

Mihailovic's second start

In Mihailovic's first start in Montreal, he seemed to have a hard time getting involved. He drifted around the midfield without finding a consistent purpose or role within the attack. While the 18-year-old still wasn't a focal point in his 45 minutes on the field against the Loons, Mihailovic was more active.

He was credited with three shots, all of which were blocked. Only Nemanja Nikolic tallied as many shots for the Fire in the first half.

There were a pair of occasions when Mihailovic went down looking for a foul, but could have fought through and maybe had another chance. Namely in the 11th minute, Mihailovic had a shot blocked but was able to win it back by continuing to pressure the ball. He then played a 1-2 with David Accam at the edge of the box, but went down just outside the box and didn't get the call.

The sequence showed good aggression by Mihailovic to get a shot off, his willingness to work hard defensively to win balls in advanced positions and his technical ability to play a 1-2 with Accam in tight space. However, the final product wasn't there.

By design, Mihailovic won't be a major part of the Fire's attack as long as Dax McCarty and Schweinsteiger are on the field. Everything goes through those two at first so Mihailovic has to work to get in positions to be more impactful. Mihailovic completed 21 of 25 passes and drifted all over the field to get on the ball.

Schweinsteiger's more attacking role

Given how the German superstar has been used more recently, it's easy to forget that when Schweinsteiger arrived in Chicago, coach Veljko Paunovic said he wanted to use Schweinsteiger as high up the field as possible. That lasted for a little while, but Schweinsteiger has dropped deeper and deeper the past few months, sometimes even being used as a sweeper.

Part of that more recently is likely due to injuries to Fire defenders. Schweinsteiger playing deeper can improve the organization of the defense while the personnel has been thrown into some chaos.

Against Toronto at times and throughout the match against Minnesota, Schweinsteiger played in a more attacking role than he has in a while. It wasn't due to the Fire trailing either. He was very active from the start of the match, completing all 11 of his passes in the first 10 minutes and starting a pair of attacks with quality passes.

Nearly two-thirds of Schweinsteiger's passes (40 of 62) were attempted from beyond midfield and he assisted on the Fire's only goal. He tended to drift to one side or the other while McCarty continued to sit deeper and patrol the middle.

Also of some note is that Schweinsteiger had two shots. After his laser last week against Toronto brought the Fire back into that match, he had a couple more cracks against Minnesota. The interesting part is that in his first five games with the Fire, Schweinsteiger totaled 12 shots. In the 17 games since, Schweinsteiger has combined for 11 shots.

Schweinsteiger doesn't need to be taking shots to make a difference in a match, but that stat is telling in how he has been used more recently.

The lack of a rally

It didn't take a second viewing to recognize the Fire struggled to put shots on target against Minnesota. The Fire had just four, and two of those came before Minnesota took the lead in the 36th minute.

Typically teams put more pressure on goal when losing, especially in cases like Saturday when the team chasing the game has a much better record and is at home. The Fire had nearly 58 percent of the possession and did total 20 shots, an impressive number, but few of those shots seemed likely to score.

"If it takes you 25 shots to score one goal, that’s not a recipe for winning many games,” McCarty said after the match.

The Fire simply couldn't break down Minnesota's defense. The only goal came on a counter. The ball was near the Fire's endline and 12 seconds left it was in Minnesota's net after Schweinsteiger had sprung David Accam for the goal.

There's nothing wrong with scoring on counters, but it further shows the Fire's struggles in the last month or so to score through extended stretches of possession like the team was doing earlier in the year.

Even more concerning is that after Accam's goal, Minnesota actually had a majority of possession. Instead of showing nerves or a lack of confidence, the Loons were able to gain more control of the ball to run out the clock and limited the Fire's opportunities. The Fire's only shot after Accam got the score to 2-1 was Michael de Leeuw's impressive, if not desperate, bicycle attempt in the 89th minute.

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of MLSsoccer.com, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.