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.

Late goal dooms Fire to another road loss

Late goal dooms Fire to another road loss

Sean Johnson had made a number of big saves late in Saturday’s match at New England, but one mistake was costly.

Johnson had three saves on well-struck shots in a span of less than two minutes. On a third corner kick during that period of sustained pressure, New England finally got one past the Chicago Fire goalkeeper.

Je-Vaughn Watson headed in a Chris Tierney corner kick in the 85th minute after Johnson came out to punch away the corner and failed to reach it. Johnson totaled 10 saves, but ultimately played a role in New England’s lone goal.

The 1-0 win for New England (6-7-8, 26 points) is a blow to the Fire’s already dwindling playoff hopes. The Revolution, which currently sit in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are now nine points ahead of the Fire (4-10-5, 17 points), which remain in last place in the league.

The Fire’s league-record road winless streak trudges on, now at 35, and the team has now lost eight straight away from Toyota Park.

While Johnson was busy making 10 saves, the Fire didn’t register a shot on target. For periods of the second half the Fire had the better of the play and created some chances, but the Revolution’s finishing kick ended up being the difference.

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The Fire’s best chance came in the 57th minute when David Accam’s low cross from the left almost resulted in an own goal. Bobby Shuttleworth was able to save the deflection, his only notable action of the night, and then John Goossens missed the bouncing ball on the rebound.

On the CSN+ broadcast, coach Veljko Paunovic was asked early in the second half about any possible tactical changes he might make and Paunovic said he liked how things were going. He backed that up by not making any subs until the 76th minute and only used two in the match.

Paunovic gave a slightly different look defensively with Johan Kappelhof, who has been a staple at centerback, starting at right back. Joao Meira took his place in central defense. Offensively, Michael de Leeuw, David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and John Goossens started together for the first time.

The Fire return home for a Sunday match against the New York Red Bulls.

Fire get a second chance in New England

Fire get a second chance in New England

The Chicago Fire have won four straight at Toyota Park and have built an eight-match unbeaten streak at home, including three in the U.S. Open Cup.

However, playing on the road has been the opposite. The Fire (4-9-5, 17 points) still don’t have a win on the road this season and haven’t even earned a point on the road since April, a seven-game losing streak.

Saturday’s match is at New England (5-7-8, 23 points). The match will be televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

“I’m not thinking about the streak that we have on the road,” Fire forward Michael de Leeuw said. “It’s another opportunity to play and to win and we need the points because we’re six points behind. I think New England has got six points more than us, two games (played) more, so it’s an important game for us.”

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New England currently sits in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Revolution already beat the Fire at Gillette Stadium this season, 2-0 on May 14. On that day, Lee Nguyen scored following a corner kick and then Femi Hollinger-Janzen provided a late insurance goal.

Hollinger-Janzen is among a fairly lengthy injury list for the Revs. Fellow forwards Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo will also be out.

“It was a tough, tough loss for us,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of the previous game in New England. “Nobody likes that. I just remember and when I have the opportunity to play again I just want to win. I want to prepare our team to win on Saturday and we will manage that.”

That game also marked Khaly Thiam's debut for the Fire. He started and played 64 minutes in midfield. Meanwhile, that was Kei Kamara's first appearance for the Revolution after being traded from Columbus. Kamara didn't score in his first five games for the Revolution, but has since scored three goals in the past four matches.

On the Fire’s injury list are Razvan Cocis, who picked up a calf injury in the Open Cup game on Wednesday, and Joey Calistri, who is still recovering from an ankle sprain. Both are officially listed as questionable, but it would be a surprise if either play.

Chicago Fire at New England Revolution

When: 6:30 p.m. (coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

Michael de Leeuw gives Fire ‘another dimension’

Michael de Leeuw gives Fire ‘another dimension’

Michael de Leeuw hasn’t taken long to show he was worth the attention paid to him when the Chicago Fire acquired him this season.

The 29-year-old Dutch forward scored his second goal in four appearances with the Fire in the team’s 3-0 win against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers on Wednesday.

The goal was almost entirely made by David Accam. The Ghanaian winger dribbled from midfield and rounded the goalkeeper before making a centering pass to de Leeuw to tap into an open net.


Other than Accam’s highlight-worthy moves on the ball, what stands out about the goal is what de Leeuw did off the ball. He read the play correctly and put himself in position for that easy finish.

“He’s a different type of player,” Accam said. “He’s like a box striker, a typical striker and that’s what we lacked all season and he’s contributing a lot to this team.”

In de Leeuw’s four games with the Fire, three of which have been starts, he has registered only two shots on target. Both of those have been close-range goals.

“I don’t think he has scored a difficult goal this season, but for me that’s a good striker,” Accam said. “He was in a good place. Most people will not be there.”

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It appears from his first few appearances with the Fire that de Leeuw is not a striker who is going to create his own shot by beating a defender or two. That’s what Accam did on that play and what Kennedy Igboananike has done on most of his four goals this season.

The key for the Fire is getting de Leeuw and Accam on the same page so they can complement each other like they did on Wednesday. For now, de Leeuw is learning what he has to do when Accam has the ball.

“Keep up, keep up with him,” de Leeuw said. “You know he’s fast. You know when he’s got the ball he goes for it. He’s like Usain Bolt. But you know you have to be prepared for the rebound. That’s what I’m doing. He made a shot and just be there for the rebound.”

Before de Leeuw’s arrival, the Fire clearly were a team looking to play on the counter to utilize the speed of Accam and Igboananike. That came at the detriment of the Fire’s ability to keep possession of the ball.

What de Leeuw gives the team is another way to attack. His hold up play means the Fire can retain the ball more easily and build up more deliberately as opposed to frequently having midfielders look for a sprinting Accam whenever they get a bit of time on the ball.

“I think it’s an outlet,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “We don’t always have to look in behind for David and try to counter. I think we have now have another dimension to our game. We can look in behind and break or we can try to combine with Michael so I think it just gives us another little bit of something for the other team to be worried about.”