Fire

Fire defenders Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent called up to national team

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USA TODAY

Fire defenders Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent called up to national team

When the U.S. men missed the World Cup, it had a massive effect on many aspects of the game in this country, but two Fire players felt that in a more specific way.

Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent had both received call-ups to the January camp in 2016 and had breakout years of sorts in 2017. Both even had an outside shot of going to the World Cup, that is if the team had qualified.

Instead, both will have to put their sights on the 2022 edition and working their way into the team before then. Polster and Vincent both got called in to this year's version of the January camp, the annual, mostly domestic-based training camp during the MLS offseason.

Vincent received his first cap in the camp in 2016 in a friendly against Canada. Polster was in the camp, but didn't play. Polster was brought in to train with the Under-23 Olympic qualifying team, which also failed to qualify.

Former Fire coach Dave Sarachan will be the coach for the camp. Sarachan is a holdover from Bruce Arena's coaching staff and is in charge while the federation waits to name a replacement. With no competitive games on the schedule in 2018, there is no rush to hire a coach and waiting for the World Cup to end will give the U.S. more candidates to choose from.

After the qualifying failure, Polster said he held out hopes of forcing his way into the World Cup roster.

“The ultimate goal was that they’d qualify and hopefully I could make January camp and then I could turn some heads,” he said in October. “That was my thought process and I really wanted to give it a go. Hopefully I can do what I can to maybe help and be a part of it one day.”

Polster, 24, had shown positive signs in his first two seasons, but lacked consistency while playing in central midfield. This season he moved to right back, a position he played with the Olympic qualifying team, and was a revelation at the position for the Fire. His athletic ability and stamina made him a good fit for the position, although his positioning and crossing ability need improvement.

Vincent, 23, improved upon a rough rookie season to become a key cog at left back for the Fire. Both players benefit from playing at a position that the national team is not deep at, but that is especially true for Vincent, a naturally left-footed player. Left back has been a difficult position to fill for the national team for decades.

Players will report to the camp in California on Jan. 10. A friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy. As a result, both players are expected to miss the first portion of the Fire's preseason.

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.