Fire search for victory against Sounders

747117.png

Fire search for victory against Sounders

The most important match for the Fire last season came against the Seattle Sounders, and the result wasnt what the Fire wanted.

The two clubs met in Seattle on Oct. 4 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, the Sounders winning 2-0. They scored the game-winner, by Fredy Montero in the 77th minute, and Osvaldo Alonso had an insurance goal in stoppage time as the Sounders won their third straight Open Cup and deprived the Fire of winning its fifth overall.

"When you play for a championship, to lift a trophy, its a little different than league play," said Fire captain Logan Pause. "(Seattles) a difficult play to play, going into CenturyLink Stadium, plus they were a very good team and on that day they were better. They deserved to win, but thats behind us."

But itll be a hard result for either side to forget, since 20 of the 27 players participating in the Open Cup final are still on the rosters of their respective teams as the clubs prepare for their first meeting of 2012 on Saturday night at Toyota Park.

Not all Major League Soccer clubs take the summer-long Open Cup tournament as seriously as the Fire and Sounders do.

"We put a lot into it," said Fire coach Frank Klopas, "but we were playing a good team. Its a different season now, and well be playing at home."

So far, it hasnt mattered where the Fire plays the Sounders. The Fire has yet to win, standing 0-3-3 in MLS meetings since Seattle entered the league in 2009. In those six matches the Fire scored just three goals. Both clubs come into Saturdays meeting with some momentum. Seattle is off to a 3-1-1 start, while the Fire is 2-1-1.

"Most of their team is returning, and they still play the same style very disciplined, very hard-working. Itll be a great test for us," said Pause.

The most-marked man for the Fire will have to be forward David Estrada, who has scored four of the Sounders six goals.

"Theyve got guys who understand their roles," said Pause. "What really jumps out is their midfield. Its one of the strongest in the league with Alonso, (Brad) Evans, (Leo) Gonzalez and (Alvaro) Fernandez. These guys are incredibly dynamic, incredibly mobile, and they work their tails off."

Most notable absentee is goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who retired from the Sounders after a brilliant career following last season. Hes now a TV commentator for the Sounders and his replacement, Michael Gspurning, is working on a 248-minute shutout streak. Gspurning played in Greece the last five seasons.

Seattle also has an MLS-best six-game regular season road unbeaten streak (5-0-1), dating back to last season.

The Fire is still unlikely to get newly re-acquired striker Chris Rolfe on the field. He sprained his right ankle in training shortly after leaving Denmark to join the Fire and he spent most of last week in a walking cast. Hes listed as questionable for the Seattle match.

"Theres not much swelling, but he still has pain when he walks," said Klopas. "Every day hes getting better, but hes not to the point where he can run yet."

Notes from the rewatch: Why can't the Fire score against bunkering defenses?

Notes from the rewatch: Why can't the Fire score against bunkering defenses?

It’s no secret that the Chicago Fire have struggled against teams that bunker in defensively and wait for the Fire to come to them.

Saturday’s loss at New York City FC was another example of that. The hosts were at full strength for less than 11 minutes and still outscored the Fire after Yangel Herrera was sent off for a second yellow card.

Coach Veljko Paunovic is well aware of his team’s struggles against the defensive strategy New York utilized. He has spoken about it, but there hasn’t been any improvement.

Here’s a look at what went wrong for the Fire in The Bronx.

How the game played at full strength

This game was yet another missed opportunity to see how the Fire stack up against a quality opponent. Add this game to that list along with the time FC Dallas sent its B-team to Toyota Park and when Orlando suffered two red cards when the Fire played in Florida.

The Fire looked a bit sluggish to start. NYCFC had the early possession edge and should have had a penalty kick called after Bastian Schweinsteiger was stripped of the ball and Johan Kappelhof tackled Herrera in the box, but got away with it. It would have been interesting to see if the Fire could adjust, but things obviously changed after the red card.

The rest of the first half

Despite turning the man advantage into solid control of the possession battle, the Fire weren’t turning the possession into shots in the first half.

The Fire managed just three shots in the first half and all three were from well outside the box. One of them probably wasn’t even a shot. Johan Kappelhof took a low drive just before halftime that was deflected by a defender and forced Sean Johnson into a tough save.


The Fire spent too much time cycling the ball around and not making an incisive pass. As has been the case in the two previous games that were similar to this (at Orlando and the Open Cup loss in Cincinnati), Dax McCarty was not there for the Fire. McCarty’s ability to quickly push the ball forward via a pass is something the team has continued to miss without him. The Fire have looked competitive, and at times good, without him, but the dropoff from how the Fire play with him as opposed to without him builds a strong argument that McCarty is the team MVP.

The Fire settled for too many crosses without McCarty’s forward passing ability. They are credited with completing just one cross in seven attempts in the first half. It didn’t help that Brandon Vincent picked up an injury in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup. On top of that, Schweinsteiger was uncharacteristically sloppy.

Things changed when David Accam entered

It’s not clear why David Accam didn’t start for the Fire, but they definitely played better once he entered as a halftime sub for Luis Solignac.

Of course, Accam’s entrance also coincided with the Fire’s defense going AWOL for the first five minutes of the half, but he did bring the team back into the game with a miraculous long-range strike that went in off the bottom of the crossbar.

Accam didn’t complete many passes (9 for 14), but he was credited with five successful dribbles. That was more than the rest of the team combined in the second half.

His ability to take players on in one-on-one situations was an important asset with NYCFC defending with numbers and conceding possession to the Fire. Paunovic brought on young players Djordje Mihailovic and Daniel Johnson, both offensively-minded players who are willing to take risks to create chances.

The Fire cranked up the heat with 20 shots in the second half, including 11 from the 76th minute on, but it wasn’t enough to break down NYCFC’s defense.

Paunovic and Co. will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to score against teams that play the way New York did on Saturday.

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

A game which paired two of the top teams in the MLS standings didn’t deliver in a traditional sense, but did produce a wild game on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire looked like a team coming off a break in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New York City FC. The Fire played up a man from the 12th minute on, but defensive lapses throughout and a lack of crispness in front of goal cost the Fire.

After a first half in which the Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) were outshot 7-4 despite the man advantage, NYCFC (11-6-4, 37 points) scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and held off the Fire’s late surge.

For much of the match, the Fire struggled to complete passes and couldn’t even put shorthanded New York City under pressure. Once the Fire fell behind 2-0, David Accam, who entered the match as a halftime sub, got the Fire within one with a long-range effort that slammed in off the bottom off the crossbar.

The final 30 or so minutes resembled the Fire’s previous struggles this season of playing against teams defending deeply. The Fire couldn’t score against Orlando when the Lions were down two players on June 4. Later in June in the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t score against USL opponent FC Cincinnati which defended deep the entire match.

NYCFC took the lead two minutes into the second half on a David Villa volley where Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson was screened on the shot. A few minutes later Frederic Brillant rebounded his own header on a set piece to double the lead.

Accam’s goal finished off a stretch of three goals in eight minutes, but the Fire couldn’t beat former goalkeeper Sean Johnson again despite 25 shots.

The loss snapped the Fire’s 11-match MLS unbeaten run and tightened up the Eastern Conference race. Toronto FC, which tied NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, is up a point on the Fire. NYCFC is now a point behind the Fire with an extra game played.

Before the red card, the Fire caught a big break when a Bastian Schweinsteiger turnover nearly led to a penalty kick. Johan Kappelhof slid to knock the ball away from Herrera in the fourth minute, and appeared to miss the ball, but the ref did not give the penalty to the hosts.

Fire defender Brandon Vincent was announced as a starter before the match, but the club said he suffered a left quad strain in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup.