MLS All-Star game is a work in progress

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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.

Tough tests in next two months should show a lot about Fire

Tough tests in next two months should show a lot about Fire

Things are looking as good as they have in many years for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire have won three games in a row, something the club has done just one other time dating back to 2014. The team’s 6-3-3 record has it sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs each of the last four years and six of the last seven.

A deeper look shows the team’s schedule so far has paved the way for this positive start and current hot stretch. The Fire’s 12 games have featured just four games against teams currently in playoffs spots, which 12 of the league’s 22 teams qualify for.

The Fire are 5-1-2 against the teams currently in the bottom 10 of the league and 1-2-1 in those four games against playoff teams. The win and the draw against teams in playoff spots both came against Columbus.

Half of the Fire’s six wins, including each of the last two, so far have come against teams in the bottom four of the league standings (Real Salt Lake, Colorado, D.C.). Of the seven teams with 14 points of fewer currently, the Fire have played six of those teams (throw in a win against Seattle, a draw against Montreal and a draw at LA onto the three aforementioned teams).

So what does this mean?

It doesn’t necessarily mean the Fire are going to come crashing down to earth, but it does mean that the Fire have consistently beaten bad teams like a good team is supposed to do. Last year (or probably even the past few years) that wasn’t the case so in that way it’s marked improvement.

It also means that tougher tests are ahead. The first one is Thursday against FC Dallas, which won last year’s U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield and was the last undefeated team in MLS before losing to San Jose on Saturday.

Including the Dallas game, seven of the Fire’s next nine are against teams in playoff spots. Five of those games are against teams among the top seven records in MLS (Dallas, Orlando twice, Kansas City, New York City FC).

May 25 vs. Dallas (5-1-4, 19 points)

June 4 at Orlando (6-4-2, 20 points)

June 10 vs. Atlanta (4-4-3, 15 points)

June 17 vs. New England (4-4-4, 16 points)

June 24 vs. Orlando (6-4-2, 20 points)

July 1 vs. Vancouver (5-5-1, 16 points)

July 5 at Portland (5-4-3, 18 points)

July 22 at New York City FC (6-4-2, 20 points)

July 29 at Kansas City (6-3-4, 22 points)

The Fire have proven to be a much improved team this year and one that figures to be in contention for a playoff spot all year. The next two months should go a long way towards showing just how improved the Fire are.

Fire get three in MLS Team of the Week

Fire get three in MLS Team of the Week

Win games and you will have players make the Team of the Week.

The Chicago Fire have won three in a row, all coming within an eight-day span, and as a result have players all over the latest MLS Team of the Week. The Week 12 collection of players counts the Fire's wins against Colorado and D.C.

Nemanja Nikolic, who scored twice against Colorado, was included for the second week in a row. He currently leads MLS with 10 goals.

Nikolic was joined by teammate Brandon Vincent, who assisted Nikolic's first goal against Colorado and helped the Fire's defense earn a pair of shutouts. Veljko Paunovic was named as the coach of the team after the Fire's two wins.

David Accam, who scored a goal each against Colorado and D.C., was on the bench.