Fire

Statement win: Fire pour it on to knock off defending champ Seattle in front of full house

Statement win: Fire pour it on to knock off defending champ Seattle in front of full house

As far as making a statement, Saturday’s from the Chicago Fire was pretty good.

The Fire thumped the defending champion Seattle Sounders 4-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd and a national TV audience on Saturday.

The Fire (4-3-3, 15 points) scored three second-half goals to pull away from the struggling Sounders (2-4-4, 10 points). Nemanja Nikolic scored a pair of goals and David Accam and Luis Solignac each had one.

The Fire took the lead in the 25th minute following a bizarre sequence. Nemanja Nikolic was awarded a penalty kick after going down in the box even though replays showed that the tackle may have been clean. David Accam's penalty was saved by Stefan Frei, but the ref had it retaken due to both teams having players entering the box early. The second time Nikolic stepped up and scored for his seventh goal of the season.

It didn’t take long for Seattle to answer though. Clint Dempsey was given room from just outside the box and stepped into a wicked left-footed shot three minutes after Nikolic scored.

The Sounders went into halftime with 61 percent of the possession, but things flipped in the second half. Coach Veljko Paunovic moved from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3, moving Dax McCarty directly in front of the two centerbacks to close off the open areas like the one Dempsey scored from.

"From there we took over the possession," Paunovic said of his team, which had 57 percent possession in the second half. "With that change, it helped the team to have the possession, stop their progressions and when we switched to 5-3-2 formation after we scored the second goal I think we definitely took over control of the game and we had a lot of opportunities from the flanks and going from inside out and outside back in and that’s how we scored the rest of the goals. I think the key was taking the possession away from Seattle."

[RELATED: Fire's win against Seattle comes in front of 'best crowd in quite some time’]

Accam gave the Fire the lead an hour into the match, finishing off a pretty combination of dribbling and short passes between Drew Conner, Bastian Schweinsteiger and de Leeuw.

Later in the half, Matt Polster subbed on for his season debut and Jonathan Campbell also entered. The 5-3-2 formation helped the Fire lock things down defensively, as Paunovic noted, and led to goals from Luis Solignac and Nikolic's second three minutes apart.

Nikolic's eight goals tie him with Mike Magee for the most goals in the first 10 games with the Fire.

“It gives us confidence," Schweinsteiger said. "Of course Seattle is a good team. They have very good players. They won last year, but we are more focused on our game style, on our philosophy, what we have.

"We are a very good team when we understand the game, when we are moving, when everyone is giving options and when we close the gaps and make it difficult for the opponent to play so today we made a very good job, especially in the second half. Now we just have to keep going, keep working and take all the confidence what we got today for the next match and maybe play 90 minutes like today (in) the second half.”

The Fire improved to 4-0-1 at home after going winless on a three-game road trip right before this. Paunovic believes the team's improvement has been consistent despite the lack of wins on the road.

"We always say this is the best game, this is the best game so what I’m trying to say is that we can see that there is a consistency and improvement in our team," Paunovic said. "When we play at home that improvement is more evident, but also I think the stretch we had on the road also helped us to forge that mentality and that great improvement we had so far in the season, especially in the last game against LA. Finally we completed a full game with a very consistent performance in both halves, especially in the second one."

Juninho sat out the match due to an ankle sprain. Michael de Leeuw returned to the starting lineup for the first time in three matches.

The Fire play at Toyota Park again on Wednesday, against Colorado.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

gordon-signs.jpg
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.