Fire remain positive despite playoff loss

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Fire remain positive despite playoff loss

By Jeremy Mikula
CSNChicago.com contributor

Despite being eliminated in the Knockout Round of the Eastern Conference playoffs Wednesday, the Chicago Fire remain positive about their season.

"Hundred percent," striker Chris Rolfe told CSNChicago.com when asked if the season was considered a success for the club. "17 wins is unheard of since I've been here. The guys have a lot to be proud of; the coaching staff has done such a great job. Right now it's hard to say and look back at the way it went, but when we've kind of calmed down and take a look back, well see how special a year it was."

The Fire qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and amassed a 17-11-6 season -- good for fourth place in the East with 57 points. However, the season would come to end Wednesday night at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, who came into Toyota Park and walked away with a 2-1 win.

For captain Logan Pause, the loss should serve as a building exercise for a team largely devoid of MLS playoff experience.

"The big thing is for the guys to know and understand the feel," Pause said. "First of all for what it takes to get here, which is one element, and then the feeling of getting knocked out, which is one we don't want to feel."

"It's a hard one to swallow right now," Pause added. "But I'm proud of where this group has come over the last year. I don't think anyone thought much of us at the beginning of the year, missing the playoffs two years in a row. There are elements where it was a success, but we're in the business where we want and need to win championships."

The Fire fell behind in the 13th minute when Will Bruin scored his first of the night on a Brad Davis corner. Seconds into the second half, Bruin completed his brace when he slotted home in the 46th minute past Sean Johnson.

Chicago managed to pull one back through second half substitute Alex, who replaced Pause at the interval. Alex's 83rd minute goal put the Fire within touching distance, but ultimately Houston held on to setup a showdown with Sporting KC on Sunday.

One highlight for the Fire in the match was veteran German centerback Arne Friedrich, who put in a performance at both ends of the pitch.

"Unfortunately it was not enough," Friedrich said of a performance that saw him both defending and leading attacks. "We were down, I saw some opportunities so I wanted to push. It's really sad because we played a really good season. But this is soccer."

Friedrich joined the Fire in the offseason after cancelling out of his contract with Bundesliga side VFL Wolfsburg. Despite playing in two World Cups and a European Final with Germany, and numerous seasons in the Bundesliga, a championship has eluded him.

"There was a great chance this season, but I guess we were a little lazy," said Friedrich, who hopes to extend his one-year contract with the Fire. "We could have won some winnable games against Philadelphia at home and at New England. But we have to learn from that. The team has a good spirit, a good character, and everybody can learn from this season and the mistakes we made."

Although by no means a rookie, Friedrich is nonetheless a rookie when it comes a postseason that determines a league champion. In most soccer leagues, the team at the top of the table by seasons end is crowned the champion.

"It's cool, I like," Friedrich said of the new experience. "We'll see at the end who wins, but for teams like Kansas City or San Jose its really hard because one game and they could be out. But for teams like Houston who finished in the fifth position, everything is possible, so I like this."

With the season now over for the Fire, the team has indicated a return to the postseason in 2013 is a goal.

"The most important thing for us is winning an MLS Cup," said Rolfe, the team's MVP and Golden Boot winner."It's going to be the same thing next year, just keep pushing ourselves and try to get further than we did this year."

Live: Fire look for another road win at D.C. United on CSN+

Live: Fire look for another road win at D.C. United on CSN+

The Chicago Fire are back on the road and have a new face joining the team on the trip.

The Fire play at D.C. United on Saturday. The match will be televised on CSN+ at 6 p.m. with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The new face joining the team is Armenian forward David Arshakyan. The Fire signed the 6-foot-4 Arshakyan from FK Trakai in the Lithuanian league on Aug. 3, but he didn’t get his visa and arrive in the country until Wednesday night. He was then shuttled to Toyota Park during the match against the LA Galaxy.

Arshakyan’s first training with the team was Thursday and he made the trip with the team to D.C. He could make his debut, but would likely have to do so off the bench. Arshakyan is also set to leave for international duty with the Armenian national team. He and David Accam of Ghana will leave for their national teams after the D.C. match.

Accam missed a chance to join Ghana in late March when he was injured and missed six MLS matches with that injury, but is excited to get another chance to represent his country.

“I’m really excited to be in the team again because I’ve worked really hard to come back into the team," Accam said. "We (Ghana) have a lot of good players and for me of course I’m doing something good here and that’s why the coach keeps calling me.”

Accam is actually battling an injury again. He is listed as questionable due to left quad injury. After Wednesday's match against LA, he was favoring his left leg a bit and had ice around his thigh. Accam said it was an issue he had before the game and he didn’t think it was a major injury. Arturo Alvarez is also listed as questionable (groin).

Beyond Arshakyan’s potential debut, Saturday is a big match in terms of keeping the Fire’s playoff hopes alive. D.C. United (6-8-11, 29 points) is currently in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire (5-11-7, 23 points) are six points back. A road win, which would be the Fire’s second straight, would bring the Men in Red within three points of D.C. with a game in hand.

[SHOP: Get your own Fire jersey here]

The Fire are undefeated in eight straight MLS home matches (3-0-5) and won the previous road match. The additions and integrations of Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac have boosted what had been a struggling attack and fewer injuries have helped create needed stability in the lineup.

“We finally feel like a team that can win (against) anyone in this league,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We always believe, we always said that, but finally you can see it. You can see it coming and you can see that this team is growing.”

D.C. features a pair of notable former Fire players in Patrick Nyarko, who scored when D.C. drew the Fire 1-1 in April, and Kennedy Igboananike, who made his first start for D.C. on Wednesday. Igboananike is yet to score for D.C. in four appearances since being traded from the Fire. Defender Kofi Opare will be suspended after earning a red card late in the match against Montreal on Aug. 24.

Chicago Fire at D.C. United

When: Saturday 6 p.m. (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

Where: RFK Stadium

Luis Solignac wins MLS Goal of the Week for opener in Montreal

Luis Solignac wins MLS Goal of the Week for opener in Montreal

Luis Solignac has made a big difference to the Chicago Fire’s attack since joining the team in early August.

On Friday, the Argentine forward added an award to show for his impact on the team. He won MLS Goal of the Week for his opening goal in the 3-0 win at Montreal on Aug. 20.

The curling goal from Solignac was his first in a Fire uniform. He also drew a penalty kick, which David Accam converted, in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy.

In Solignac’s 312 minutes, nearly three and a half games, the Fire have scored seven goals. Not bad considering the Fire were averaging less than a goal per game before Solignac’s arrival.

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Holding onto leads at home has not been a strong suit for the Fire this season.

Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy was the fifth time this season the Fire have been unable to get a win at home in a match they led. In four of those, including Wednesday, the Fire had leads in the second half.

In the previous cases, the Fire dropped deep defensively and tried to simply hold onto the lead or hope David Accam could score on a one-man counter.

“I think once we’re up in the result I think we have to make sure that we kill the game off because there’s been too many times where it’s that 1-0 or that 2-1 and we’re kind of holding there and the next thing you know they’re tying the game at the end of the game,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We got to keep pushing for that third goal to make sure that we kill things off.”

The game against LA was different. The Fire had multiple quality chances to score a third goal and take a two-goal lead. One opportunity featuring Accam, Luis Solignac and an open net seemed like a sure goal as it was developing.

However, the Fire didn’t find that two-goal lead and LA managed to come back.

“I think we created a lot of chances,” Alvarez said. “We went up 2-1 and unfortunately that third goal didn’t want to go in at the right time and then LA got that bounce.”

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Even though the result didn’t show it, the Fire may have actually turned a corner in terms of how to play with a lead. In the win at Montreal on Saturday, the Fire scored that extra goal to take a two-goal lead, something the team hadn’t done all season in an MLS game.

Against the Galaxy, the Fire actually had more possession in the second half (56 percent) than the first half (46 percent). LA’s only shot on goal in the second half was the tying goal while the Fire put three shots on target in the second 45 minutes.

The Fire did fail to close out another match at home that they had a lead in, but the way it happened was different and maybe that’s a positive sign going forward.

“I think it’s starts from the offense,” Accam said. “If we could have scored then we could have killed the game. The defense did really well. We just need to keep finishing chances and then opponents won’t have the chance to attack us.

“I think we played one of the best games we played this season, but we need to take our chances and today I would say we are disappointed that we dropped two points at home. For me also we created so many chances that on another day we could have taken it. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for me.”