Chicago Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Fire under siege in Atlanta

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: Fire under siege in Atlanta

Saturday's 4-0 loss in Atlanta was the first setback in the young season for the Chicago Fire.

The first loss of the season came as a result of a nigthmarish first 11 minutes which left the Fire almost no way to come back. It wasn't just Johan Kappelhof's early red card that doomed the Fire though, things were already looking grim beforehand.

Here's a look at the 11 minutes of 11v11 from the match and other observations from after the Fire were down a man.

Evaluating things before the red card

It's hard to evaluate the Fire's performance considering they went down a man so early in the match. However, the symptoms of a bad loss were already showing in the first 10 minutes despite the Fire having a couple decent chances in the first several minutes.

In the second minute, the Fire showed a quick counter, which was probably the gameplan going in on the road against a possession-oriented team like Atlanta. Michael Harrington intercepted a switch pass with a header. The header landed with Dax McCarty. McCarty found Arturo Alvarez, who turned it over, but Atlanta gave it right back to David Accam. Accam mishit the shot and it went harmlessly wide. It was a sloppy play from both teams, but it showed the Fire's intent to be dangerous on the counter.

Two minutes later Atlanta went on top with a pair of slightly unlucky breaks for the Fire. Atlanta is cycling possession around the back until pushing forward with a pass to Yamil Asad. Asad takes a heavy touch and Alvarez and McCarty swarm him to try to force the turnover. They are unable to win it cleanly and Josef Martinez steps in to redirect the ball into the path of Hector Villalba. Seconds after nearly forcing a turnover, the Fire are now scrambling defensively.

Villalba feeds Julian Gressel wide right and his low cross ricochets off Brandon Vincent and into the net. Atlanta was quicker to a loose ball and was able to quickly get the ball in the penalty box. After that, it's just an unlucky deflection.

Arturo Alvarez did have a chance a few minutes after the goal by cutting onto his left foot, what else, but the shot is an easy save for Alec Kann.

Then Atlanta kicked in its possession dominance. A 26-pass sequence led to a Michael Harrington foul in Atlanta's defensive half. The Fire were already chasing and struggling to get on the ball, even before going down a man.

The red card itself comes from an intercepted Michael Harrington throw in. Atlanta is off to the races at that point and Johan Kappelhof is sent off, which practically ended the game at that moment.

It's easy to point to the red card when explaining Atlanta's mind-blowing possession numbers (83 percent for the match), but the hosts actually had 87 percent of the possession in the first 10 minutes of the match. The Fire may have planned to weather an early storm and then try to work their way into the match with counters or more aggressive pressing, but they were already down a goal and couldn't get on the ball. The red card may have ended the Fire's chances of coming back, but it wasn't looking good before it either, even considering the goal involved a bit of luck.

Jonathan Campbell's first action of 2017

Campbell probably had the toughest season debut possible. Sub into a match after just 15 minutes in front of a sold out, hostile crowd when your team is already down a goal and a man. On top of that Atlanta forward Josef Martinez has superb movement, forcing the centerbacks to constantly stay on their toes.

Campbell had an impressive rookie season and led the Fire in minutes. Coach Veljko Paunovic said he has a possible future with the national team. However, Campbell didn't play in either of the Fire's first two matches this season. Kappelhof's red card thrust him into a tough situation and will require him to start against Montreal in the Fire's next match.

He made some nice plays beforehand, but was involved in Atlanta's second and third goals. Campbell headed a clearance from goalkeeper Alec Kann that went right into the path of Miguel Almiron. Almiron then threaded a nice pass to Josef Martinez. Campbell's errant header started Atlanta's break and he couldn't keep up with Martinez after that.

The video below starts just as Almiron controls Campbell's header.

Then on Atlanta's third goal, Campbell denies a Greg Garza cross headed for Martinez. Campbell had position and was able to stay in front of his man. However, the clearance went up the middle in the box and Hector Villalba hammered it home.

It wasn't a great outing, but assuming he starts against Montreal that would be a better judge to see where Campbell is in his second year.

Jorge Bava's distribution

Whenever a team signs a South American goalkeeper, the stereotype is that he is good with his feet and in distribution. In the case of the Uruguayan Bava, it was magnified because of Paunovic's desire to play out of the back and general manager Nelson Rodriguez's comment this preseason that Bava's skillset was rare among domestically based goalkeepers.

So how is Bava doing?

In the season opener at Columbus he had a pair of turnovers on distribution, one of which led to a chance on goal. The following week he was clean against Real Salt Lake. He came off his line on a couple occasions when needed, he caught all the crosses he was supposed to and his distribution was solid.

In Atlanta Bava made both some impressive throws and long kicks and had more dangerous turnovers.

For starters, Bava's yellow card in the 18th minute had a bit of a comedic element to it. Bava came out to punch away a long ball in the corner of the box. He dribbled the ball out of bounds after hesitation and then gets a yellow for running away with the ball so he can get back in position. He could have just blasted the ball 40 rows up, but for whatever reason he didn't. Ultimately no harm, no foul other than an unnecessary yellow card.

A few minutes later was a sequence that encapsulated what Bava's distribution has been like with the Fire. He turned the ball over on a goal kick, but after he reclaimed the ball from the ensuing attack he hit a nice long punt that found Nemanja Nikolic (who made an impressive one-touch trap) past midfield. Later in the half he heaved a throw past midfield that Nikolic was able to run onto.

To cap it off, in the 90th minute he came out of his box to intercept a ball over the top. He then missed the 10-yard pass aimed for McCarty.

Bava has shown the standout long kicks and throws that Paunovic seems to be looking for, but has also made mistakes on some of the simpler plays. None have led to goals yet, but that's something he will need to clean up.

To close, here's an impressive view of Josef Martinez's fourth goal from Saturday:

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

The Fire have gone three games without a loss so Shane Murray (MLSsoccer.com) and Dan Santaromita discuss the team's recent performances and if the team is back to its best form.

Next, hear from Dax McCarty as he talked to reporters after training on Tuesday.

Finally, Dan and Shane give the latest on the lengthy Fire injury list and look at the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: