MLS All-Star game is a work in progress


MLS All-Star game is a work in progress

The Major League Soccer All-Star Game has been a work in progress in the past, and that remains the case this year.

Fan balloting began Friday for the match pitting the MLS squad against UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea on July 25 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. MLS squad selection is a long, confusion process that started with media from around the league determining the top six players on each team.

For the Fire, that meant goalkeeper Sean Johnson, defender Gonzalo Segares, midfielders Sebastian Grazzini, Marco Pappa and Pavel Pardo and forward Dominic Oduro will be on the fans ballot.

Fans can vote through July 2, either through the MLS website or via text messaging or Twitter. Those votes will determine the designated All-Star First XI, with the players announced at the halftime of the Fires home match vs. the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 8.

That wont determine the whole team, though. Ex-Fire captain Peter Nowak, now the coach of the Philadelphia Union, is the coach of the MLS All-Stars this year. He will choose the game day roster and the starting lineup. MLS commissioner Don Garber will also have two picks for selection eligibility to be announced on July 25. The leagues players will also vote for their peers as part of the selection process.

In the end, 32 players will be designated as All-Stars, as per the leagues collective bargaining agreement with its players. Obviously, not all of them will be on the field against Chelsea. Of the Fire nominees, only Pappa has had a taste of All-Star activity. He was a starter in the 2010 match, a 5-2 loss to Manchester United in Houston.

MLS has tried a variety of formats for its version of All-Star weekend. In the leagues first two seasons, 1996 and 1997, teams were chosen by conference with the East meeting the West.

In 1998, when the Fire joined the league, the match pitted MLS players from the United States against those from the rest of the world. That was an interesting concept, but it didnt last long. It was back to East vs. West in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

The 2002 version pitted the MLS All-Stars against the U.S. national team, and just one MLS squad also participated the following year when the opponent was CD Guadalajara, the popular Mexican club known as Chivas.

After another try of East vs. West in 2004, the league opted for the present matchup of one MLS squad facing a notable international club Englands Fulham in 2005, Chelsea in 2006, Celtic FC of Scotland in 2007, Englands West Ham in 2008, Englands Everton in 2009 and Englands Manchester United in both 2010 and 2011.

The two matches with Man-U were the only matches the MLS squad lost during the seven-year run. The 4-2-1 mark compiled by the MLS squad in that period included a 1-0 victory over Chelsea before a sold-out crowd of 21,210 at Toyota Park in 2006. The game has been a sellout every year since 2005.

The top 10 goals at Toyota Park in 2016

The top 10 goals at Toyota Park in 2016

Chicago Fire fans may not have seen the best results this season, but Toyota Park was host to a number of quality goals.

Here’s a look at the 10 best goals in Fire games at Toyota Park in 2016.

1. Tommy McNamara’s curler for NYCFC in the season opener (March 6)

Arguably the best goal Toyota Park saw this season was the first goal it saw this season. New York City FC’s Tommy McNamara received the ball in space 15 yards outside the box, dribbled in and unleashed a curler that banged in off the post from more than 20 yards out. The big crowd for the Fire’s season opener was immediately deflated in what was one of the most entertaining games of the season. McNamara has been one of the breakout stars of this MLS season with five goals and nine assists and one of his finest efforts came in Bridgeview.

2. Ignacio Piatti curler wins it late for Montreal (April 16)

Not to be outdone by Kennedy Igboananike’s curling shot on nearly the same part of the field earlier in the game, Ignacio Piatti came up with the goods in added time to give Montreal a 2-1 win. All three goals in this match were fantastic, but this was the standout. Piatti is just outside the corner of the box when he shoots and manages to strike an unsavable shot. Très bien.

3. Kennedy Igboananike looping curler from an angle against Montreal (April 16):

Looking back, this goal is slightly amusing because the two players at the heart of the goal, Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto, are both no longer with the Fire. After a defensive mistake, Gilberto had plenty of room to start a break and fed Igboananike wide. From there, Igboananike squared up just barely inside the box and launched a perfect arching, curling shot that left goalkeeper Evan Bush with no chance. Look at the replay of the goal and just admire the trajectory that ball takes.

4. David Accam makes comical work of Ft. Lauderdale’s defense in Open Cup to set up Michael de Leeuw (July 20)

This is one of the most hilarious goals the Fire scored this season. David Accam takes control of a ball just inside his own half and then goes on to destroy Ft. Lauderdale’s defense like he was playing against children. Gale Agbossoumonde falls over while trying to defend Accam at the edge of the box (a la Leo Messi embarrassing Jerome Boateng), then Accam dribbles around the diving goalkeeper and gets one more defender to slide to no avail before giving Michael de Leeuw a tap in at the back post. This is de Leeuw’s goal, but it was all about Accam.

5. Didier Drogba backheel (April 16)

This goal starts with a bad turnover by goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but finishes with some Didier Drogba class. The Ivorian was all alone in front after former Fire winger Dominic Oduro got the steal and made the centering pass. From there, Drogba did a Drogba thing and flicked it in with a right-footed backheel.

6. Adam Jahn’s turnaround volley for Crew (Oct. 13)

It’s hard to know if Jahn’s first touch was entirely intentional here, but once he saw the ball pop up he knew exactly what to do. Initially it looks like Jahn is just trying to keep the Corey Ashe cross from getting past him while staying clear of a sliding Joao Meira. Watch his eyes on the replay. He tracks the ball the whole way, which allows him to make strong contact even though his back is to the goal when he first receives the ball. The goal nearly allowed Columbus to stay alive in the playoff race, but did at least make for a fun last 10 minutes while the Crew sent everything they had at the Fire.

7. Accam’s weaving rup vs. Indy Eleven in the Open Cup (June 15)

David Accam is a fun player to watch and this goal is a great example of why. Accam gets a loose ball about 30 yards from goal after Indy Eleven turns it over, splits two defenders, blows by another, jukes back on another before shooting and scoring. He gets a minor ding for the shot taking a deflection on its way to the goal, a deflection that may have been required to score, but gets some bonus points for the importance of the goal. Accam saved the Fire from an embarrassing loss with this extra time equalizer. Either way, this is something you would see in a FIFA video game. Accam gets two players to slide in unison on the same cutback move. Glorious.

8. Matt Polster diving header against the Red Bulls (Aug. 2)

What a way to score your first MLS goal, Matt Polster. Not only does Polster get some credit for a diving header, but look at the ball from John Goossens. Good stuff from both on this goal.

9. Arturo Alvarez shake ‘n’ bake to set up his left foot against Philly (Sept. 3)

By the time Arturo Alvarez scored this goal the match was already decided, but Alvarez put an extra exclamation point on it with a nifty move on Ken Tribbett. Alvarez crossed up Tribbett just enough to give himself space for his favored left foot and then perfectly drilled a low shot in the side netting of the far post.

10. Michael de Leeuw makes outside foot finish look easy (Oct. 16)

This isn’t a typical highlight-reel goal, which is why it sits at the bottom of the list, but it shows off what Michael de Leeuw is good at. Brandon Vincent sends a low centering ball to de Leeuw, who is able to roof the ball with the outside of his right foot with his first touch. New England never should have left de Leeuw, a noted poacher, that wide open that close to goal, but de Leeuw still didn’t have that many options to beat goalkeeper Brad Knighton. Because de Leeuw is in front of the near post when he receives the ball, a low shot can likely only beat Knighton if it goes to the far post, which would be an incredibly difficult shot. De Leeuw recognized that he had to elevate the ball and gets style points for doing so with the outside of his right foot.

Things could look different when the Fire next play at Toyota Park

Things could look different when the Fire next play at Toyota Park

The Chicago Fire picked up a win in the final home game of 2016, but the result seemed secondary to what lies ahead this offseason.

The Fire were officially out of contention with four games remaining in the regular season and Sunday was the third of those four games. The elephant in the room was that a number of the players may have played their last games at Toyota Park as members of the Fire.

After general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the team isn’t set in any position given the results of this season, it’s safe to think there will be a number of changes heading into 2017. The thing is, it’s not yet clear what those changes will be.

That will play out over the next few months, beginning with the front office’s decisions to pick up or decline the club options that apply to most of the current roster.

“We look forward to improve and get better for next season,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We have to finish the season on a positive side and then during the offseason we can continue building and working with the guys on their individual plans and everything else that we have to do before they go for vacation. Then when they come back they have to come back better than they went home.”

[RELATED: Fire excited to get a win for fans in home finale after disappointing season]

After years of rebuilding, it’s a familiar story for the Fire. This past offseason was the biggest change the club had seen in a few years. Rodriguez came in as general manager, brought in Paunovic as coach, made sweeping changes to the Academy and had other changes behind the scenes as well.

Some continuity could help, but it’s hard to justify keeping the status quo with the Fire currently in last place in the league.

“I think things are coming together still,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “It’s been a long year. I think with a lot of turnover from the beginning of the season, I know it’s 33 games into it now, but having too much turnover every year is tough just in general. I think if we can get a core group of guys and keep this team for next year and build off that, I think you’re going to see a little bit different (team). I think a little more chemistry as a team will help us.”

This is what Rodriguez and Paunovic face this offseason. Either stick with the core of a team that is last in the standings or endure another rebuilding offseason that requires the beginning portion of the season to be used on forming some chemistry.