Fire

U.S. Soccer picks up crucial win in Soldier Field

U.S. Soccer picks up crucial win in Soldier Field

In a must-win game, the U.S. Men’s National Team delivered in a big way in Soldier Field.

A loss to Costa Rica would have made the Americans the first team eliminated from the Copa America Centenario. Instead they hammered the Ticos with three first half goals in a 4-0 win in front of a crowd of 39,642 in Chicago.

Clint Dempsey got the party started with a penalty kick in the ninth minute. Jermaine Jones and and Bobby Wood added goals late in the first half and the rout was on.

“We think they deserve a huge, huge compliment for tonight’s performance,” U.S manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I think it was overall a very, very pleasant performance and it confirms the spirit of the group. The spirit is excellent.”

Dempsey also assisted on Jones’ and Wood’s goals to have a goal and two assists by halftime. It was a must-win for the U.S., but Dempsey said playing well under pressure is nothing new for the team.

“Any World Cup cycle you’re going to have periods where things are not going well and you have to respond," he said. "For us to have a chance at staying in this tournament and getting out of our group we needed to win tonight. But the work’s not done.”

The final group game for the U.S. is Saturday against Paraguay in Philadelphia. A draw would be good enough for the U.S. to advance from Group A as the second place team behind Colombia, which beat the U.S. 2-0 in the tournament opener.

From the local standpoint, Brad Guzan was able to get the shutout in Chicago. Guzan is a Providence Catholic graduate and this was his first match for the national team in Soldier Field.

“It’s always important to keep a clean sheet,” Klinsmann said. “It’s important for your back line, it’s important for your goalkeeper. He had a home game tonight, Brad Guzan, in Chicago so he’s super pleased obviously.”

Guzan directed the talk away from himself, but was pleased with the team’s performance.

“We knew from day one that the second game was going to be huge for us and the guys, all the credit to them, they turned out a great performance,” Guzan said.

Soldier Field was more than 20,000 seats short of a full-house, but it was a pro-American crowd, which the team did not enjoy at Levi’s Stadium against Colombia.

“Today was perfect. We played good and the support was good,” Jones said.

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.