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.'"

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.