Fire

Sepp Blatter re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term

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Sepp Blatter re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term

ZURICH (AP) — Sepp Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term on Friday, chosen to lead world soccer despite separate U.S. and Swiss criminal investigations into corruption.

The 209 FIFA member federations gave the 79-year-old Blatter another four-year term after Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan conceded defeat after losing 133-73 in the first round.

Prince Ali's promise of a clean break from FIFA's tarnished recent history was rejected despite the worst scandal in the organization's 111-year history.

"I like you, I like my job," Blatter said to cheering voters. "I am not perfect, nobody is perfect, but we will do a good job together I am sure."

The election went ahead Friday after U.S. and Swiss federal investigations struck at the heart of Blatter's "football family" this week. Two FIFA vice presidents and a recently elected FIFA executive committee member were still in custody Friday as the votes were counted.

Still, soccer leaders worldwide stayed loyal to their embattled president of 17 years, even though Prince Ali pushed the election to a second round by getting a surprising 73 votes.

Before the second round started, Prince Ali stood before the congress and conceded.

"I want to thank all of you who were brave enough to support me," said the prince, who previously spoke of a culture of intimidation at FIFA. "It's been a wonderful journey in terms of knowing you, working with you."

Blatter has blamed others for bringing shame and humiliation on the sport. In a pre-election address to voters on Friday, Blatter said it was "impossible" for him and FIFA to "keep an eye" on everyone and be responsible for everything that happened in world soccer.

[RELATED: US, Swiss looking at top FIFA executives in corruption probe]

Blatter won despite calls for his resignation from UEFA president Michel Platini and others. Platini said Thursday that UEFA could pull out of FIFA and withdraw from the World Cup if Blatter was re-elected.

FIFA's big-money sponsors have also called for change within FIFA. Visa warned Thursday that it could pull out of its contract, which is worth at least $25 million a year through 2022.

In what appeared to be warning to UEFA, Blatter pledged to change the representation of his influential executive committee, where Europe currently has eight of 25 voting members.

Platini sat still and did not clap during Blatter's post-victory speech.

Blatter also said he would retain a 32-team World Cup and resist expanding what is FIFA's cash cow.

The defeated 39-year-old prince was a FIFA vice president for the past four years with a close-up view of Blatter's previous scandal-hit mandate.

Blatter was re-elected unopposed in 2011 after promising to fight corruption and support key investigations of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests and a bribery scandal which removed his Qatari opponent from the presidential ballot.

Those probes were conducted in-house by FIFA's own judicial bodies. The latest investigations promise deeper trouble for FIFA with federal law enforcement agencies delving into soccer's affairs.

Raids on FIFA's favorite luxury downtown Zurich hotel and its own headquarters were launched early Wednesday by Swiss police.

Senior FIFA officials were among seven men arrested at the request of American federal prosecutors investigating bribery, money-laundering and wire fraud. The 2018 and 2022 World Cups — awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively — are the focus of a separate Swiss federal probe of suspected financial wrongdoing.

Last November, Blatter and FIFA filed a criminal complaint with the Swiss attorney general's office against non-Swiss nationals.

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.