Fire training camp report

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Fire training camp report

AVE MARIA, FL. So far, so good.

Five days into preseason training Fire coach Frank Klopas is pleased with what hes been seeing from a group of players that underwent little change from 2012.

"The changes we made were minimal, said Klopas, "and thats been good because we can get right down to work. Its been fun, and a lot of hard work from the guys.

In most previous seasons the Fire tweaked its roster with some foreign players. Not so this time. The main new acquisitions were off Major League Soccer rivals Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Joel Lindpere (New York) and Maicon Santos (D.C. United).

They werent consolation prizes. Klopas spent a month on the road in the offseason with stops in Spain, Holland, Belgium, Argentina and Costa Rica. Other staffers also went abroad in search of talent but felt players available via MLS were the best bet to improve a club that ended a two-year absence from the playoffs in 2012.

"We looked at guys, said Klopas. "Sometimes things dont work out, and sometimes you say I know what Im getting from guys in the league. We felt there was an opportunity to get proven guys in the league, and we took advantage of it.

Klopas has 33 players in camp at the small college town near Naples. Nineteen are rostered players. Ten are here as trialists and four were draft picks. Five are goalkeepers, with a spot open for a third netminder behind the rostered Sean Johnson and last seasons backup, Paolo Tornaghi.

Johnson is one of four players not in camp. Hes training with the U.S. national team in California in preparation for next weeks international friendly against Canada. Also absent are defender Arne Friedrich, who will join the team at the second phase of preseason training in Ventura, Calif., next month; Corben Bone, who is training with Spains Atletico Madrid; and Patrick Nyarko, who is expected here on Saturday after staying in Chicago to receive a CSN Award as the clubs top player of 2012 on Thursday night.

Klopas was also honored at the awards night, as a Fire Legend, but he was directing workouts here.

The lone uncertainty is the status of Alvaro Fernandez. A midfield starter on the left side the second half of 2012, Fernandez is apparently headed for the Qatari club Al Rayyan. A loan agreement hasnt been signed, however, and Fernandez is still technically a member of the Fire.

"Theres no update, said Klopas, "but it seems like hell be going somewhere else.

The trialists are headed by Rich Balchan, claimed off waivers after spending two seasons with the Columbus Crew; Rauwshan McKenzie, who has spent time with Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA since 2008; Luke Boden, a product of the Sheffield Wednesday system in England; and Colin Rolfe, a former University of Louisville teammate of Fire defender Austin Berry, the MLS Rookie-of-the-Year in 2012.

Also battling for a roster spot is Sam Archer, winner of the Fires open tryout in December and one of the last players cut by the Colorado Rapids in 2012.

Klopas has been conducting on-the-field workouts in the morning and fitness sessions either in the gym or running on the Naples beaches in the afternoon. That routine will be broken on Sunday when the Fire has a practice game with Florida Gulf Coast Universitys team.

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.”

Fire can't hold onto halftime lead in draw with LA

Fire can't hold onto halftime lead in draw with LA

The Fire had a chance to continue the momentum from Saturday’s win at Montreal, but couldn’t put the finishing touches on a second-straight win.

Instead, the Fire settled for a 2-2 draw at home against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday after the Fire led at halftime.

After a dull first quarter of the match, the game featured four goals, two more called back for offside, a number of close chances and wide open play.

LA’s U.S. national teamer Gyasi Zardes opened the scoring in the 31st minute and the floodgates opened soon after. Zardes pounced on a loose ball in the box with a hard and low shot.

Just three minutes later the Fire (5-11-8, 23 points) equalized with a goal that also required a couple deflections to wind up at the feet of an open shooter. Michael de Leeuw put a header on target and LA goalkeeper Clement Diop came up with the initial save. However, the save bounced off defender A.J. DeLaGarza’s face and landed right to Arturo Alvarez, who scored with a half volley.

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The Fire completed the turnaround when Luis Solignac was tripped in the box for a penalty kick, which David Accam converted to give the hosts a 2-1 lead in the 39th minute.

"I think the way we came back and how fast we did that, I think that’s something that is very positive for us," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Against a great team, a big team, it even counts more. I think also as we said during this year we were working hard to get to this moment where we can actually feel as a real team, a team that can win (against) anyone.”

Even if the Galaxy (9-4-12, 39 points) are arguably the deepest team in the league, LA didn't bring a full strength lineup to Toyota Park. Giovani Dos Santos didn't start, but did eventually score the tying goal, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard weren't even included on the list of substitutes in the matchday lineup and Nigel De Jong was available as a substitute but didn’t play.

Dos Santos connected with another sub, Alan Gordon, for that tying goal in the 69th minute. Gordon centered a ball from the right to Giovany Dos Santos, who scored with his first touch.

"I’m feeling very sorry for our guys, very disappointed that we couldn’t get more from this game," Paunovic said. "I think the performance was fantastic. I think we finally feel we are there, where we wanted to be during all this year."

Earlier in the second half, Chicago had a golden opportunity to take a two-goal lead when David Accam chased down a long ball and dribbled around LA goalkeeper Clement Diop. Diop came way off his line, but with an open goal in front of him Accam dribbled into the box and passed to Luis Solignac. Solignac missed the shot with two defenders, but still no goalkeeper in his way.

The Fire were unable to put the game away, but did hold an 8-3 edge in shots on target and the Galaxy's only shot on target in the second half was the goal. The Fire also had 51 percent of the possession, which is the third time this season the Fire had most of the possession.

"I know everyone has talked about the whole not winning away and we were able to do it in Montreal," Alvarez said. "It was a great performance overall from everyone so that game alone just kind of gave everyone that boost that we needed. I think it showed in this game as well. Unfortunately it didn’t go the way we wanted to. Then again that’s LA for you, they always find a way to come back into games and they did this time.”

The Fire's draw coupled with Columbus' loss to Philadelphia means the Fire are now tied with the Crew in the Eastern Conference, but remain six points out of the playoffs. The Fire next play Saturday at D.C. United.

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town

The Chicago Fire had its biggest, most important win of the season on Saturday. The next step is proving it wasn’t a fluke.

The Fire finally snapped that road winless streak Saturday in Montreal. Wednesday against the LA Galaxy the Fire won’t be on the road, but the game is still a chance to prove the Fire have actually improved.

The match will be televised on CSN+ at 7:30 p.m. with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

It may be hard to believe given how poorly the Fire started the season and that they’ve been in last place for most of the season, but a win would go a long way to putting the Fire (5-11-7, 22 points) within striking distance of a playoff spot. Chicago sits six points out of the final playoff spot with 11 matches remaining and four teams to catch.

Picking up that win won’t be easy because the Galaxy (9-4-11, 38 points) have the second fewest losses in the league. One of those losses came Saturday, a 1-0 defeat at New York City FC.

“We have to take advantage of this momentum,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We are playing against one of the best teams in the league.”

The Galaxy feature a number of big names, but Fire fans may recognize Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz before some of the stars. Both players return to Toyota Park for the first time after playing multiple seasons for the Fire.

The 31-year-old Magee has made 13 starts in 24 appearances and has six goals and four assists in 2016. Larentowicz has made 10 starts in 15 appearances.

The focus tactically for the Fire will likely revolve around the Galaxy’s talented attacking players. Beyond Magee, who won the 2013 MLS MVP with the Fire, Robbie Keane (7 goals in 13 matches this season), Gio Dos Santos (8 goals, 8 assists) and Gyasi Zardes (5 goals, 5 assists in 17 matches) are a handful.

The Galaxy have some similarities to the Fire’s last opponent, Montreal, in that they have big-name, high-producing forwards. In the case of the Impact it was Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. However, Paunovic doesn’t see the Fire’s approach changing regardless.

“The similarity would be for sure the attitude and the approach to win the game we had against Montreal,” Paunovic said. “That’s going to be similar, but I believe even if we could play again the same game against Montreal it would be impossible to repeat. What I’m trying to say is that every game is different even if you’re trying to play the same lineup, even if you’re playing against the same lineup, the same everything, every game is different. Even if there are some similarities in their style in having experienced and quality guys in their team, it’s going to be different.”

Eric Gehrig will miss his second straight game due to a hamstring injury. Nick LaBrocca, who sat out against the Impact, was back in training this week, but not as a full participant. LaBrocca (quad), Arturo Alvarez (knee) and Razvan Cocis (knee) are all listed as questionable as of Monday. Fullback Robbie Rogers and goalkeeper Brian Rowe are questionable for LA.

Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy

When: 7:30 p.m. (coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+

Where: Toyota Park