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.

Fire learn home opener, first three games of 2018 schedule

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USA TODAY

Fire learn home opener, first three games of 2018 schedule

The full 2018 schedule will wait, but for now we know the first three games the Fire will play, including the home opener.

Major League Soccer announced the home opener for all 23 teams on Tuesday and the Fire will begin the season March 3 at the Colorado Rapids. The home opener at Toyota Park will follow the next weekend on March 10 against Sporting Kansas City. The Fire will also travel to play Minnesota on March 17 for the Loons' home opener.

Kickoff at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, will be 8 p.m. on the opening Saturday of the season. Colorado is 14-3-5 is home openers all time and the two teams also opened the 2010 season in Colorado, which was a 2-2 draw.

Kickoff times for the Fire's home opener and the game in Minnesota remain unannounced. The Fire's trip to Minnesota will be the team's first with the only meeting between the 2017 expansion team and the Fire coming at Toyota Park.

This opening slate of games gives the Fire a good opportunity to get a strong start to the season. Colorado was one of the worst teams in the league in 2017. Minnesota also failed to make the playoffs, although the Loons did win in Toyota Park in late August.

Around the league, a pair of notable matchups during the opening weekend include an Eastern Conference final rematch between Toronto and Columbus, which will be the first game of the season, and the debut of Los Angeles FC, which will take place Sunday, March 4, at Seattle.

The rest of the schedule will be announced in January.

As the offseason marches on, the Fire avoided losing any players in the expansion draft for LAFC and also passed in the waiver and re-entry drafts. Stage 2 of the re-entry draft takes place Thursday and the next notable date on the offseason calender it the draft combine, which begins Jan. 13.

Amid recent drama, David Accam doesn't start, but still scores in Fire loss

Amid recent drama, David Accam doesn't start, but still scores in Fire loss

After venting his frustration at not being selected to the MLS All-Stars by coach Veljko Paunovic, David Accam remained in the spotlight on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire’s Ghanaian winger didn’t start for the second straight match. For the second straight match he came off the bench and scored. Also for the second straight match, Accam’s goal brought the Fire to back within one, but was the final goal of the game in a loss.

The Fire lost 3-2 at Sporting Kansas City.

A report from Ives Galarcep, which followed up on a CSN Chicago story about Accam’s disappointment in not being selected for the All-Star Game by Paunovic, said Accam has asked the Fire to let him leave by accepting one of the recently submitted offers for him.

With all that in mind, seeing Accam listed among the substitutes instead of the starting lineup before Saturday’s game raised some eyebrows that the report could be accurate.

By the time Accam entered in the 55th minute the Fire were already trailing 3-1. His goal made for a tense finish. Nemanja Nikolic’s header in the 85th minute, which came from an Accam cross, was as close as the Fire came to getting a tying goal. Only a save from Tim Melia denied Nikolic.


With Accam not starting, Juninho filled in as an extra midfielder alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and the returning Dax McCarty. Patrick Doody got the start at left back with Brandon Vincent still out with a quad injury. That was Doody’s first appearance for the Fire since 2015.

Sporting KC (9-4-9, 36 points) took the lead in the 23rd minute when a Daniel Salloi shot deflected off Schweinsteiger’s calf and gave goalkeeper Matt Lampson no chance. Five minutes later, a Matt Polster cross caused an own goal after Matt Besler sliced an attempted clearance back into his own net.

KC regained the lead just before halftime when Benny Feilhaber bicycle kicked a rebound from point blank range into the goal. Latif Blessing doubled the lead early in the second half.

The Fire (11-5-5, 38 points) have lost consecutive games for the second time this season. After finishing this road trip with a 0-2-1 record, the Fire return home next Saturday against the New England Revolution.