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.

Fire look for another road win at D.C. United Saturday on CSN+

Fire look for another road win at D.C. United Saturday on CSN+

The Chicago Fire are back on the road and have a new face joining the team on the trip.

The Fire play at D.C. United on Saturday. The match will be televised on CSN+ at 6 p.m. with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The new face joining the team is Armenian forward David Arshakyan. The Fire signed the 6-foot-4 Arshakyan from FK Trakai in the Lithuanian league on Aug. 3, but he didn’t get his visa and arrive in the country until Wednesday night. He was then shuttled to Toyota Park during the match against the LA Galaxy.

Arshakyan’s first training with the team was Thursday and he made the trip with the team to D.C. He could make his debut, but would likely have to do so off the bench.

Beyond Arshakyan’s potential debut, Saturday is a big match in terms of keeping the Fire’s playoff hopes alive. D.C. United (6-8-11, 29 points) is currently in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire (5-11-7, 23 points) are six points back. A road win, which would be the Fire’s second straight, would bring the Men in Red within three points of D.C. with a game in hand.

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The Fire are undefeated in eight straight MLS home matches (3-0-5) and won the previous road match. The additions and integrations of Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac have boosted what had been a struggling attack and fewer injuries have helped create needed stability in the lineup.

“We finally feel like a team that can win (against) anyone in this league,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We always believe, we always said that, but finally you can see it. You can see it coming and you can see that this team is growing.”

D.C. features a pair of notable former Fire players in Patrick Nyarko, who scored when D.C. drew the Fire 1-1 in April, and Kennedy Igboananike, who made his first start for D.C. on Wednesday. Igboananike is yet to score for D.C. in four appearances since being traded from the Fire. Defender Kofi Opare will be suspended after earning a red card late in the match against Montreal on Aug. 24.

The Fire may have an injury concern relating to David Accam, who was seen favoring his left leg a bit and had ice around his thigh after Wednesday’s match against LA. Accam said it was an issue he had before the game and he didn’t think it was a major injury. Still, Accam is listed as questionable due to a left quad. Arturo Alvarez is also listed as questionable (groin).

Chicago Fire at D.C. United

When: Saturday 6 p.m. (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+

Where: RFK Stadium

Luis Solignac wins MLS Goal of the Week for opener in Montreal

Luis Solignac wins MLS Goal of the Week for opener in Montreal

Luis Solignac has made a big difference to the Chicago Fire’s attack since joining the team in early August.

On Friday, the Argentine forward added an award to show for his impact on the team. He won MLS Goal of the Week for his opening goal in the 3-0 win at Montreal on Aug. 20.

The curling goal from Solignac was his first in a Fire uniform. He also drew a penalty kick, which David Accam converted, in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy.

In Solignac’s 312 minutes, nearly three and a half games, the Fire have scored seven goals. Not bad considering the Fire were averaging less than a goal per game before Solignac’s arrival.

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Holding onto leads at home has not been a strong suit for the Fire this season.

Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy was the fifth time this season the Fire have been unable to get a win at home in a match they led. In four of those, including Wednesday, the Fire had leads in the second half.

In the previous cases, the Fire dropped deep defensively and tried to simply hold onto the lead or hope David Accam could score on a one-man counter.

“I think once we’re up in the result I think we have to make sure that we kill the game off because there’s been too many times where it’s that 1-0 or that 2-1 and we’re kind of holding there and the next thing you know they’re tying the game at the end of the game,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We got to keep pushing for that third goal to make sure that we kill things off.”

The game against LA was different. The Fire had multiple quality chances to score a third goal and take a two-goal lead. One opportunity featuring Accam, Luis Solignac and an open net seemed like a sure goal as it was developing.

However, the Fire didn’t find that two-goal lead and LA managed to come back.

“I think we created a lot of chances,” Alvarez said. “We went up 2-1 and unfortunately that third goal didn’t want to go in at the right time and then LA got that bounce.”

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Even though the result didn’t show it, the Fire may have actually turned a corner in terms of how to play with a lead. In the win at Montreal on Saturday, the Fire scored that extra goal to take a two-goal lead, something the team hadn’t done all season in an MLS game.

Against the Galaxy, the Fire actually had more possession in the second half (56 percent) than the first half (46 percent). LA’s only shot on goal in the second half was the tying goal while the Fire put three shots on target in the second 45 minutes.

The Fire did fail to close out another match at home that they had a lead in, but the way it happened was different and maybe that’s a positive sign going forward.

“I think it’s starts from the offense,” Accam said. “If we could have scored then we could have killed the game. The defense did really well. We just need to keep finishing chances and then opponents won’t have the chance to attack us.

“I think we played one of the best games we played this season, but we need to take our chances and today I would say we are disappointed that we dropped two points at home. For me also we created so many chances that on another day we could have taken it. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for me.”