Fire look to avoid three-game slide vs. Galaxy

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Fire look to avoid three-game slide vs. Galaxy

Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010
12:33 PM
Associated Press

The Los Angeles Galaxy are paying for conceding early goals. The Chicago Fire are looking to capitalize on those struggles again.

The Galaxy will try to solve their defensive issues and avoid their longest losing streak in three years when they visit the stumbling Fire on Saturday night.

Los Angeles (13-5-4) still has the league's best record but has cooled of late, going 3-5-2 after starting the season with a 12-game unbeaten streak. The club's recent woes have been exacerbated by falling behind early.

The Galaxy are on a 1-3-1 stretch that has seen them allow eight goals -- six in the opening 20 minutes. Three of those scores came in a 3-2 home defeat to Chicago (6-7-6) on Aug. 1.

Los Angeles saw that trend continue last Saturday when it fell behind in the 12th minute and lost 2-0 to Kansas City. The Galaxy have been shut out in losing their last two games, falling to 0-5-1 when giving up the first goal.

Last year's MLS Cup finalists haven't dropped three in a row since a six-game slide from Aug. 9-Sept. 1, 2007.

"We have to figure out who we are and what we're all about and if we can do that we'll have a chance," defender Todd Dunivant told the team's official website. "If not, and we continue getting through these games like this, we're not going to win the championship -- and that's obviously our goal this year."

The Galaxy soon could get a boost after learning this week that star midfielder David Beckham is targeting next Saturday's game against East-leading Columbus for his return from an Achilles' tendon tear.

Until then, they'd like to see some production from Edson Buddle, the league leader with 13 goals -- two short of his career high set in 2008. The forward has scored once in four games and has been limited to two shots on goal over the last two.

"There is certainly a real strong defensive focus on Edson," coach Bruce Arena said. "I give the players who have been playing against him a lot of credit -- they've dealt with him real well."

Landon Donovan is also having a tough time offensively, going three games without a goal or an assist after getting five of each over the previous six.

The forward scored two goals in the last meeting with the Fire, and he had one in a 2-0 victory in the most recent matchup at Toyota Park on Aug. 19, 2009.

Chicago, five points out of playoff position, is trying to avoid a three-game slide after falling 2-1 at Seattle last Saturday when it gave up a stoppage-time goal.

Key absences could be an issue for the Fire, with Freddie Ljungberg suspended for yellow-card accumulation and fellow midfielder Marco Pappa with Guatemala for a pair of friendlies. Reserve defender Deris Umanzor was recalled to El Salvador.

Pappa's seven goals are a team high.

Brian McBride is entering the final 11 games of his career after announcing Friday that he'll retire at the end of the season. The former United States national team star has four goals for Chicago but none in the last eight games.

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

As rumors pile up, Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez says team has a "sense of urgency"

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USA TODAY

As rumors pile up, Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez says team has a "sense of urgency"

As the beginnings of a cold Chicago winter start to take hold of the city, the rumor mill has started to heat up for the Chicago Fire.

Major League Soccer’s clubs are not able to make official moves until after MLS Cup takes place on Dec. 10, which means rumors will remain just that for another week and a half. So when Fire general manager was asked about a potential Sean Johnson trade, as was reported yesterday, he wasn’t able to comment in a substantive way.

“Sean had a good season for us,” Rodriguez said Friday afternoon. “There’s a trade moratorium until after MLS Cup and like every player on the team we’re constantly evaluating opportunities and possibilities.”

Compare that to what Rodriguez said last December about transfer rumors involving David Accam and it’s not hard to notice the difference. Rodriguez vehemently denied anything regarding Accam then and the Ghanaian stayed. This time around regarding Johnson, Rodriguez said the team is “evaluating opportunities.” There is a three-hour trade window on Dec. 11 in advance of the expansion draft for Atlanta and Minnesota on Dec. 12.

Rodriguez said there have been discussions about trades before the expansion draft.

“We have been having several conversations with a few different teams,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve called and inquired about players and discussed possibilities about acquiring players and also have received calls from teams inquiring about our players. I think there’s a general mood around the league that people want to get those deals done in advance of the expansion draft so that they know who they’re protecting and otherwise.”

Teams will be able to protect 11 players and homegrown players will not be eligible for selection. As the roster currently stands, the Fire have 17 players under contract and four homegrown players so only two players would be left unprotected and that’s before a potential Johnson trade.

As far as acquiring players from outside the league, Rodriguez said the staff has been busy scouting both college games and foreign leagues. Coach Veljko Paunovic and assistant Marko Mitrovic “remain abroad” while scout Matt Pearson has returned after watching players live in October and November.

Nothing seems to have changed in regards to what Rodriguez said the team needs. He still spoke of “players who represent leadership, experience, poise on the ball, particularly in the central midfield slots,” and a “gamebreaker” who can create or score a goal.

Some of the rumored names this offseason are of a higher profile than last winter. While following through on such moves is all that matters, Rodriguez said things are different in the way the front office has approached this offseason.

“I think what we all feel is a sense of urgency that we need to win,” Rodriguez said. “We need to prove that we can win and we need to win consistently. That’s our mindset.”

Rodriguez, assistant Logan Pause and goalkeeper coach Aleksandar Saric have been scouting college games. Rodriguez said the decision to sign homegrown players from college has not yet been made. The plan is to wait until the end of the college season for all teams to talk with coaches and families of prospects. North Carolina freshmen Cam Lindley and Mauricio Pineda, Indiana junior Grand Lillard and Indiana sophomore Andrew Gutman are some of the Fire’s top prospects in college. Indiana was recently eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but UNC’s Elite Eight game is tonight.

As for some of the players the Fire declined options on last week, there is a chance that some will return like the way Razvan Cocis did last season after the Fire didn’t pick up his option.

“We are still in discussions on a few of the players whose options we did not select, but we’re still talking to them to see if the possibility to bring them back still exists,” Rodriguez said.

Sean Johnson reportedly nearing trade to Atlanta in busy day of Fire rumors

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USA TODAY

Sean Johnson reportedly nearing trade to Atlanta in busy day of Fire rumors

With the MLS Cup final still nine days away, Major League Soccer teams can't make trades until the day after Toronto hosts Seattle for the league's championship, but that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning out some juicy potential Chicago Fire moves.

Sam Stejskal of MLSSoccer.com reported that a deal that would send Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to expansion team Atlanta is nearing completion. The report says the Fire would receive general allocation money in return for the 27-year-old. If the report is accurate, Johnson would be traded after MLS Cup and before the expansion draft.

Johnson, who has spent his entire pro career with the Fire, is from Lilburn, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The local ties, combined with the fact that Matt Lampson began the season as the Fire's No. 1 goalkeeper, has fueled speculation that Johnson could join his hometown club in its expansion season.

The Fire had picked up Johnson's option, along with eight others, last week. If the Fire had not picked up Johnson's option he would have gone into the league's re-entry process, which would have meant the Fire would not have received anything in return for him if a team selected him.

To go further down the rabbit hole of potential moves, Paul Tenorio of FourFourTwo reported that American national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan is "exploring" a return to MLS. Guzan, who is currently with Middlesbrough in the Premier League, would be subject to the league's allocation order. The Fire have the top allocation spot until the expansion teams, Atlanta and Minnesota, move into the top two spots once the current season ends after MLS Cup. Atlanta will have the top spot in the allocation order and the Fire would have the third spot, also behind Minnesota.

Guzan is a Chicagoland product who went to Providence Catholic. It would be irresponsible to connect the Johnson report to the Guzan rumor without any more information to go on, but if Johnson is traded Guzan could potentially become an option for the Fire.

Finally, in a busy day of Chicago Fire-related rumors, ESPNFC reported that the Fire are in the running for Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic, who is currently with Legia Warsaw. Nikolic, 28, has scored 13 goals in 28 appearances for the Polish club this season and has reportedly been linked with Premier League team Hull City.

Throw this fresh pile of potential offseason moves in with the ongoing Bastian Schweinsteiger rumors, who by the way actually played for Manchester United on Wednesday in a four-minute substitute appearance, and the Fire's offseason is promising to be active.