Frigid afternoon can't cool down Fire in opener

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Frigid afternoon can't cool down Fire in opener

Saturday, March 26, 2011
Posted: 7:17 p.m.

By Dieter Kurtenbach
Contributor to CSNChicago.com

Goals from Diego Chaves, Gaston Puerari and Marco Pappa lifted the Chicago Fire to a 3-2 victory over 10-man Sporting Kansas City in the team's home debut.

The Fire earned their first win of the year in a testy affair on a frigid afternoon. The game kicked off with a stiff breeze and a just-quite freezing 32 degree temperature.

"Three points, first game of the year, I think we're happy about that," Fire midfielder and captain Logan Pause said. "Obviously we made it pretty interesting. The priority is the first game at home, setting the tone three points, crucial."

The Fire's first goal was scored on the counter attack half-an-hour into the game. A Kansas City free kick inside the Fire defensive zone was cleared with a lob pass over the Kansas City back line that a streaking Puerari took on a breakaway.

One-on-one with Kansas City goaltender Jimmy Nielsen, Puerari was fouled from behind by Kansas City striker Omar Bravo.

Referee Jasen Anno awarded a penalty kick on the foul, and after a two-minute verbal fracas that migrated from the penalty area to the sidelines and back, Bravo was given a red card and sent off.

In both of the Fire's games this season, their opponent has had to play a man down for significant time. Last week against FC Dallas, the Fire had a man advantage for 38 minutes. Saturday, it was nearly an hour.

Chaves took the penalty kick for the Fire, blasting a bending shot into the right corner of the net.

It was the second breakaway opportunity for Puerari in as many games. In the Fire's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last week, Puerari had a similar oppurtunity, but his shot was saved by Kevin Hartman.

Puerari broke through four minutes after the first goal, cutting in behind the Kansas City defense inside the penalty box in rhythm with a Michael Vidiera lead pass. The goal was Puerari's first of the year and first in MLS.

Chaves and Puerari both signed with the Fire coming from separate Uruguayan clubs in the offseason, and are best friends off the field. That chemistry has manifested itself in three of the Fire's four goals on the season.

"We have different styles, but the same mentality," Chaves said. "We know where the other is on the field, we know where the other guy moves,"

Pause isn't surprised at the tandem's success.

"I think it's important that they work when they have the ball, and they work when they don't have the ball, and that's so important in this league," Pause said. "I'm just happy they were both rewarded with goals tonight."

Kansas City pushed back in the second half, despite their player disadvantage. Teal Bunbury entered the game for the former Wizards at halftime and was able to create opportunities as a right wing and striker, exploiting the Fire's three-man defensive core.

Bunbury's play highlighted several minutes of sustained offensive pressure from Kansas City at the onset of the second half. Kansas City would break the shutout six minutes in, when Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson took an aggressive line to intercept a crossing pass and missed, leaving Kansas City midfielder Chance Meyers with an open net and plenty of time to strike.

Johnson took responsibility for the goal after the game.

"The second half they put a decent amount of pressure on us, and the first goal I should have dealt with it better," Johnson said. "I'll put that one on my back."

Marco Pappa scored in the sixtieth minute to reestablish the Fire's two goal lead. Summoning his inner Derrick Rose, Pappa went through four Kansas City defenders with an ankle-breaking drive to goal that started outside the penalty area.

"He's such a great player, and his head, it's always up," Chaves said of Pappa's goal. "I was to his right, and he was always looking to me, and just the look the guys came with me and he got his space."

"I think it was a lucky goal," Pappa said with a head shake and a chuckle.

Kansas City would get that goal back when Bunbury, serviced by a errant backpass from Chicago's Gonzalo Segares, beat Johnson on a breakaway in the seventy-third minute.

Pause said that the second-half defensive lapses are to be expected, given that it's early in the season and Kansas City had no choice but to full-out attack.

"It's tough when you're up 2-0, up a man, they're just throwing numbers forward, and they have to take risks," Pause said. "Some of those risks paid off for them."

Even if it's easy to excuse the goals, Pause called the second-half performance careless.

"Concentration, we let it slip a little bit. Those are things at this point of the year, we're kind of wiping our brow, saying 'phew, we got away with one' We'll take the three points."

With 12,157 in attendance on a not-ideal day, head coach Carlos de los Cobos was pleased that his team matched the intensity of the supporters with their play on the field.

"We need to create a very strong advantage for Chicago Fire here at home," de los Cobos said. "Last season we lost a lot of points, we lost games and the intention of this year is different, and I am very satisfied. I know we need to improve in some things, but what's most important is that players create a great community in each other, and they are fighting every minute."

"We have no stars this year," Chaves said of the team's mentality. "We're just players that want to take things how do you say? 'To put the Fire on the top.'"

Why the next two weeks are crucial in MLS' Eastern Conference race

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USA TODAY

Why the next two weeks are crucial in MLS' Eastern Conference race

As Major League Soccer teams return from the Gold Cup break this week, the Chicago Fire are tied for the best record in the league.

The Fire’s 11-3-5 record, good for 38 points, has virtually assured the team of a playoff spot with nearly half the season still to play. Sports Club Stats has MLS playoff odds, which give the Fire and Toronto FC both a 99.9 percent chance of making the postseason.

So if the Fire’s baseline goal of making the playoffs is a near certainty at this point, what’s next? The Fire will want to strive for a first-round bye by getting one of the top two spots in the Eastern Conference. The Fire and Toronto are currently five points ahead of third-place New York City FC. Those two teams play tonight in The Bronx before the Fire head to Yankee Stadium to take on NYCFC on Saturday.

“We have to see how they play, obviously against Toronto, another direct opponent in our quest for the top of our conference,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said on Tuesday. “We’ll see how they do, how they’re going to play. We’ll see also what lineup they will play and that’s a good opportunity for us. We also know that that result is going to impact for sure their approach against us on Saturday.”

NYCFC could either fall out of the race or jump right into the thick of it in the next two weeks. Even after hosting both Toronto and the Fire in a four-day span, the David Villa-led team heads to Canada for another meeting with Toronto FC on July 30.

A look at the remaining schedule for the top three teams in the Eastern Conference standings shows the Fire may have the toughest road ahead. The table below shows how many games each team has at home and away as well as total games vs. teams currently in playoff spots and away games against those current playoff teams.

  Home games Away games Playoff teams At playoff teams
Fire 7 8 7 5
Toronto 8 7 6 3
NYCFC 8 7 8 2

The Fire have one fewer home game than Toronto and New York, but the real difference is in those away playoff games. The Fire have five such contests remaining (at NYCFC, at West-leading Sporting Kansas City, at Columbus, at San Jose and the season finale at Houston) and are 0-2-3 in those games so far this year.

Toronto has trips to Yankee Stadium and Toyota Park still on its schedule, but only one other road game against a playoff team. That's in Atlanta, the team that sits in fourth in the conference. TFC's disadvantage is that the Reds will be without Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley presumably for both of the key meetings with NYCFC while those two are competing in the Gold Cup knockout stage.

New York has two meetings, both one home and away, against the Fire and Toronto. In addition, NYCFC hosts three of the Western Conference's best teams in Sporting KC, Portland and Houston in September. With ground to make up in the standings, David Villa and Co. will need to do well in those games against the Fire and Toronto to fight for a first-round playoff bye and perhaps a long-shot run at the Supporters' Shield.

Regardless of what lies further ahead, the next two weeks should go a long way to shaping the race at the top of the Eastern Conference when the final stretch of the season approaches.

Fire's David Accam among MLS' All-Star snubs

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USA TODAY

Fire's David Accam among MLS' All-Star snubs

All-Star snubs are a tradition in American sports and Major League Soccer is no exception.

Even with four Chicago Fire players on the MLS All-Star Game roster, more than any other team, the Fire have one of the most notable snubs from the roster.

David Accam’s 10 goals and seven assists puts him among the league’s best in both categories. He is the only player to rank in the top five of both stats.

Accam not making the MLS All-Star roster is definitely a snub when considering Giovani dos Santos was included with six goals and an assist. That’s decent production, but doesn’t compare to Accam’s as a similar position.

“Decisions that we had to make on the roster wasn’t easy,” Fire and All-Star coach Veljko Paunovic said. “Obviously there are a lot of players around the league that deserve to be there and did very well, but there are also limitations and taking everything in consideration.”

Accam being one of the first names to make any list of All-Star snubs puts Paunovic in an awkward position. In the drama-filled world of social media, Accam retweeted mentions of his snub from former teammate Mike Magee and current LA Galaxy winger Ema Boateng.


Last week, before selections were made, Accam didn’t make it sound like getting into the All-Star Game was particularly important to him. He said it would be “a bonus,” but “nothing changes” if not. Now he’s retweeting players saying he was snubbed from the team.

Paunovic was asked about Accam’s exclusion on Tuesday.

“It’s not easy when you have to pick guys from your team and some guys that you also think they deserve to be there you can’t just because of the limitations,” he said. “That’s how it is. I think that’s important and everyone understands and that being an all-star, it’s not only being an all-star player for one game. You have to understand that all-star should be the habit. The stars, the great players always perform well. They always have the good approach and they do their best in every single game and that’s actually the mindset that everyone has to have even when there is no All-Star Game involved.”

Accam wasn’t the only one in MLS to take to social media to vent his frustration with not being included.


Kempin’s support for his former Sporting Kansas City teammate was retweeted by Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson.

Paunovic, who picked 11 of the remaining 13 spots after the Fan XI vote gave out the first roster spots earlier this month, admitted the complications of picking players based on a number of factors.

“It’s based on what we see in every game, every week, what we also see in the games we play in those teams that we picked the players,” Paunovic said. “Also we consider players who are playing on the same team who are the tandems in different teams and that’s also important so when you’re bringing the guys who never played together, actually it’s very important to see how many tandems or players that they played on different teams together maybe so they know each other. It’s important. You have only three days so you have to consider everything.”

Inevitably there will be players who get hurt or drop out for other reasons, so there might still be room for Accam, or the other notable snubs, to join the team before the MLS All-Star play Real Madrid Aug. 2 at Soldier Field.