Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

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Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

AVE MARIA, FL. It will just be an informal match against a college team, but for Jeff Larentowicz, the Fires first preseason meeting with Florida Gulf Coast University on Sunday marks a new beginning.

Larentowicz was the Fires biggest offseason acquisition. He came from the Colorado Rapids for the Fires first-round pick (11th overall) in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

"To leave Colorado was tough, but to end up here... I couldnt have asked for more," Larentowicz said after a snappy morning workout on Saturday on the campus of Ave Maria University. "Ive been around the league a bit, but this group is fun to be around and the coaches keep things intense, but still short and to the point. Thats what everyone wants at this time of year."

Larentowicz will play a major role in a midfield that is being tweaked by coach Frank Klopas. Theres plenty of competition for jobs in that part of the lineup, but theres one less candidate after Alvaro Fernandezs move to Qatori club Al Rayyan was finally confirmed.

Fernandez, a late-season acquisition from Seattle in 2012, was the starter on the left side. Larentowicz will probably wind up in the middle.

"Jeffs a leader on and off the field, and one of the most accurate passers in the league," said Klopas. "He brings a lot of physical presence to the midfield and hes been a very consistent player for five-six years."

Larentowicz is one of the rare fourth-round draft picks to earn long-term playing time in MLS. The New England Revolution claimed him with the 45th overall pick in 2005, and he has some interesting ties to the Fire.

One of his teammates and best friends in high school at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia was Dan Gargan, the defender who played for the Fire the last two seasons but was lost to San Jose in the last re-entry draft.

Larentowicz has also been a long-time teammate of Wells Thompson, another Fire midfield candidate. Thompson was acquired late last season. He played with Larentowicz for three seasons in New England and three in Colorado. In fact, Larentowicz and Thompson moved from the Revs to the Rapids together, in a trade that sent defender Cory Gibbs to New England.

Gibbs was a Fire mainstay until suffering a knee injury last year. He retired after the campaign ended.

So now, Larentowicz, Maicon Santos and Joel Lindpere are being counted on to improve the Fire. All came from other MLS teams rather than being the more traditional additions from foreign clubs.

"That is highly unusual," said Larentowicz. "When teams sign players in the offseason, its easier to transfer players in than transfer from within the league. The logistics are easier that way, but its important to get people in who know the league."

The Fire has its second and last preseason match of the first phase of preseason training on Wednesday against the Columbus Crew in Bradenton, FL.

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town tonight on CSN+

Fire try to win second straight with LA Galaxy in town tonight on CSN+

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

Fire seek to use first road win as a "catalyst"

Fire seek to use first road win as a "catalyst"

Saturday was a big day for the Chicago Fire. The team won on the road for the first time since 2014 and almost certainly had its best performance of the season.

It’s fair to celebrate the accomplishment given how long the Fire went without winning on the road. After being asked about it frequently in the beginning of the season, coach Veljko Paunovic, who wasn’t responsible for a majority of the streak, would bring it up on his own before every road. It was something the team was clearly thinking about. Having that gone is a major step for the rebuild of the club and it was clear in the players’ reactions.

The reality check is that the Fire still have the worst record in the league, still have the worst road record in the league and are still a sizable, although not insurmountable, six points out of the playoffs.

Paunovic is aware of this and addressed how important it is for the team to use the Montreal win as a “catalyst.”

“It’s a process and a part of the process was winning on the road,” Paunovic said during a conference call with the media on Monday. We are not looking back. We are just looking forward. We want to take advantage of this momentum… We want to use it as a catalyst, an important boost for us.

“I think it’s a fantastic moment and momentum that we have at this point.”

[SHOP: Get your Fire home jersey here]

The Fire only have to wait a few days to return to the field and find out if they can keep the momentum or if the win in Montreal was a one-off. The LA Galaxy come to Toyota Park on Wednesday.

David Accam, who had a goal and an assist, was named to the MLS Team of the Week while goalkeeper Sean Johnson was named to the bench. Accam will join Ghana’s national team for the next international window, scheduled for Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, and is expected to miss the Sept. 3 match against Philadelphia. David Arshakyan, who is still waiting for his visa so he can join the Fire, will join the Armenian national team. Collin Fernandez, currently on loan with Saint Louis FC, was called into Peru’s under-20 team.

With Accam healthy and playing well, recent additions Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac both contributing to the attack and Arshakyan still coming, there are signs of improvement. Ever the optimist, Paunovic used Saturday’s win as evidence that the team is finally showing the progress it has made this season.

“I just see the team that is starting to play the way we want to play and that we were chasing during all this season,” Paunovic said. “I just see a great opportunity in being strong at home and the win on the road at Montreal. I see a great opportunity, but the game against LA is either going to be the confirmation or we will have to adjust again.”

Considering Paunovic said earlier this season that “at some point we will surprise everyone by how well we played,” it comes as no shock that Paunovic said Saturday’s performance was not surprising or unexpected.

“We were getting closer,” he said. “Maybe in some games we didn’t compete on that level, but I can say in most of our games on the road we played well and it was only the posture that we were missing, which in this game I think we finally started and we found it.”

Oddly enough, this weekend three MLS teams won on the road for the first time in 2016. Columbus, 2-0 winners at New England, and Houston, which won 2-1 at San Jose, stayed ahead of the Fire in the league standings with wins. Defending champion Portland is now the only team yet to win on the road this season. There are eight teams, including the Fire, with one road win.

The Fire’s 3-0 win was the sixth time this MLS season that a road team won by three goals or more.

Fire get first road win since 2014 in rout of Montreal

Fire get first road win since 2014 in rout of Montreal

The Chicago Fire’s road winless streak is finally a thing of the past.

The Fire beat the Montreal Impact 3-0 on Saturday at Stade Saputo to end the club’s MLS-record 36-match road winless streak.

Luis Solignac scored his first goal since joining the Fire and David Accam had a goal and an assist in the win.

The Fire (5-11-7, 22 points) last won on the road on July 12, 2014. That was a 1-0 win in New England.

Saturday’s win in Quebec featured a lot of firsts for the Fire. The Fire had not led going into halftime on the road in 2016. It was the first time the Fire led by two goals in an MLS match, home or away, all season.

Solignac sparked the big victory by scoring on a counterattack in the 15th minute. Following a Montreal corner, Michael de Leeuw made a short pass from just outside the Fire’s box to David Accam. Accam went full speed to create a counter by himself before laying it off to Solignac on his left. Solignac cut inside on two defenders and curled the shot past Evan Bush.

It was one of the prettier Fire goals of the season and gave the Fire a lead on the road for just the second time this season.

“We tried to isolate them 1v1 and for me I think if I get 1v1 against anyone in this league I’m having a lot of joy,” Accam said during the halftime interview on CSN+.

The Fire got an insurance goal in the 73rd minute via Accam. De Leeuw slid a centering ball to Arturo Alvarez, who had just subbed into the match a minute before. Alvarez’s shot deflected in off Accam, slowly crawling over the line after the deflection wrong-footed Bush.

[SHOP: Need a Fire home jersey? Get it here]

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson emphasized the importance of getting that second goal instead of simply defending a 1-0 lead.

“I think so often we get up a goal and then we tuck in and we sit back,” Johnson said on CSN+ broadcast. “The message was we’re in a good spot, we’ve played well, we’ve been in this position before. We have to learn how go on and score again and again and close out games… We did that tonight.”

With Montreal (8-7-9, 33 points) still pushing numbers forward to get back into the match, the Fire had even more opportunities on the counter. Matt Polster put the finishing touches by scoring one of those counters in the 89th minute.

When the match ended, the Fire moved within five points of the playoffs, but remained last in the league due to Houston and Columbus also winning this weekend. The win should be a confidence booster, but if nothing else it is a relief to not have a negative record hanging over the players’ heads.

“This is massive,” Johnson said. “I think for everybody in the locker room it’s a weight off the shoulders.”

The Fire next have a midweek game at home on Wednesday against the LA Galaxy.