Chicago Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Michael de Leeuw's influential game and Vancouver's missed early chances

Notes from the rewatch: Michael de Leeuw's influential game and Vancouver's missed early chances

A lot of factors seemed to be going against the Chicago Fire when they faced Vancouver on Saturday, but it turned into another dominant home win.

The Fire were coming off a long game on turf midweek and were without two standout starters, David Accam and Dax McCarty. Despite that, Nemanja Nikolic returned to his goal-scoring ways and the Fire routed the Whitecaps.

Here’s a look at how Vancouver nearly changed the entire match with a pair of early chances, Michael de Leeuw’s big game and how the Fire have turned into a possession team.

Vancouver’s early chances

It didn’t take long for these plays to be forgotten considering what happened later in the first half, but Vancouver came close to taking an early lead twice in the opening 10 minutes.

A Cristian Techera free kick whizzed in front of goal without anyone connecting with it in just the second minute. In the sixth minute Christian Bolanos smacked a low shot from distance that beat Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson and slammed off the post.

These were early warning signs that the Fire may not be recovered from the long midweek game and loss in Cincinnati, but the game didn’t play out that way. Had the Whitecaps converted one of these early changes, things could have been very different.

Michael de Leeuw’s big game

The big story for the Dutch forward was that he finally scored on Saturday. Even without the goal, he once again was valuable in other ways.

He had a nice turn and through ball to Nikolic in the 11th minute, but Nikolic couldn’t control the ball. Seven minutes later the duo connected again and this time Nikolic finished. De Leeuw won a loose ball and gave it to Nikolic, who held off a defender and beat goalkeeper David Ousted.

The two forwards connected frequently on Saturday. De Leeuw nearly assisted Nikolic again to give him his hat trick in the 83rd minute, but Nikolic’s shot went inches wide of the post. When de Leeuw finally scored, it was Nikolic who gave him the assist as part of a give-and-go.

De Leeuw finished with four shots, three of which were on target. He admitted after the game that the one that wasn’t on target, an 80th minute effort where he cut onto his right foot and shanked a shot wide, should have been a goal.

Nikolic and de Leeuw showed good chemistry up top and if de Leeuw can start scoring now that he is on the board, this could be another way the Fire’s attack can hurt teams.

Fire control possession again

This isn’t specifically about Saturday’s match, but the Fire once again controlled possession. They did so without Dax McCarty playing in midfield and with Bastian Schweinsteiger getting subbed out late in the first half due to injury.

The Fire finished with 60.7 percent possession. It is the sixth time in the past eight matches that the Fire have had a majority of the possession.

The improvement in possession isn’t a surprise considering the additions of McCarty, Juninho and Schweinsteiger to central midfield, but considering how bad the Fire were in that area last year (dead last in the league averaging a 43 percent share of possession) it is still quite staggering. Vancouver is last in the league this year in possession so the Fire's dominance on Saturday lined up with what the teams have been doing lately.

Schweinsteiger highlight of the week

Finally, an obligatory gif of Schweinsteiger turning out of traffic with two players on him.

Fire fans are throwing a killer party for the club's 20th birthday

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Fire fans are throwing a killer party for the club's 20th birthday

Most MLS teams are too young to have substantial history, but Fire fans are doing their part to celebrate the 20 years of Chicago Fire soccer.

A group of supporters is putting the work in to throw a party for the club in the vein of a fan convention — except this one isn’t run by a team. The small group of fans from the Fire’s independent supporters’ association, Section 8, is pooling efforts to throw a killer birthday bash and inviting former players and coaches to return for the celebration.

The Chicago Fire 20th Anniversary will take place on Oct. 8 at the Chicago Cultural Center. That’s 20 years to the day since the club’s first general manager, Peter Wilt, announced the name of the then-MLS expansion team at Navy Pier. Wilt will be among the star-studded list of attendees.

“You’re basically taking a fan convention and cramming it into four hours,” said Scott Greene, the chair of Section 8’s board of directors.

Greene was at the anniversary party five years ago and the plan is to continue them every five years. He said the 15th anniversary was “pretty flawless” in the way it ran and they are hoping to replicate that this time around with a similar type of program.

“It was astounding from the fact of what the Fire means for former players,” Greene said. “I think that always takes you aback at their experience at what the Fire means... Their willingness to come out to Chicago to interact with the fans is remarkable.”

The list of confirmed guests already boasts some of the biggest names in the team’s history and more are expected, although still unconfirmed. Five players from the original 1998 team, which won both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup, are already confirmed to be attending: Lubos Kubik, Diego Gutierrez, Jerzy Podbrozny, Roman Kosecki and current broadcaster Frank Klopas.

“It’s always great, the ability now to reconnect with all the old friends,” Klopas said during the broadcast of the D.C. United match this past Saturday. “I pretty much run into a lot of my old teammates that are still involved in the league here, but the ability to spend some time with Kosecki and Podbrozny, guys that you don’t see that much. It’s fantastic to reconnect with some of our old fans and some of the new fans and talk about some great moments from the past, but also some fantastic moments where the team is now.”

Longtime Fire defender Gonzalo Segares, 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee and 1994 Ballon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov also will be attending.

In order to get the players to come to Chicago, Section 8 has worked to raise funds to fly the players in, which is especially tricky with those coming in from out of the country. Greene said ticket sales are the main revenue portion, but they are also accepting donations and there is a silent auction.

The auction includes a game-worn Michael Bradley national team jersey from a Gold Cup semifinal this year. Bradley is the son of the Fire’s first coach, Bob Bradley, and grew up in Chicagoland while his dad coached the team. There is also the press of the Bastian Schweinsteiger poster that ran in the Chicago Tribune.


“It’s a ton of coordination, but from a fan’s point of view it’s pretty awesome to email people,” Greene said. “I sponsored Andy Herron and it’s really cool to interact with him. I’m interacting with my sporting heroes. That’s really cool from being a volunteer and organizing this, the logistics of who’s coming.”

The club has helped provide videos and photos as part of the program and the beer list would make some brew fests envious. Chicagoland breweries Half Acre, BuckleDown (which has a Section 8 Pale Ale), Two Brothers (which will have a 20 Twenty-Plus Pilsner Lager which is named for the founding year of the brewery, which matches the Fire’s founding year) and Goose Island will have beers at the party. Goose Island is making a black lager made exclusively for the party.

Tickets and more information are available through the Fire 20th Anniversary website.

With playoff spot nearly secure, 'now it’s about how good' Fire can be

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USA TODAY

With playoff spot nearly secure, 'now it’s about how good' Fire can be

Things have been on the upswing for the Fire for the past couple weeks, but the players recognize the sharpness of the team’s unbeaten run earlier in the season still eludes them.

The 3-0 win against D.C. United on Saturday wasn’t all-out domination, but was the only comfortable win in the past seven games. With five games remaining in the regular season, and a playoff spot virtually locked up, the Fire is hoping to reach its heights from earlier in the year.

“We can start mentally getting ready to treat I think these next five games like they are playoff games, mentally getting ready for it,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We haven’t clinched anything yet so I don’t think we can take any of that for granted, but obviously with a couple good results in a row now, we’re feeling pretty comfortable about making the playoffs. Now it’s about positioning. We want to get a first-round bye so, like I said, these last five games for us, from my perspective, are playoff games.”

New York City FC is three points ahead of the Fire for second place in the Eastern Conference. The two teams play at Toyota Park on Sept. 30.

They already met in Yankee Stadium on July 22. That game was the first in a stretch of seven games in which the Fire lost six. NYCFC suffered an early red card and still managed to beat the Fire. The Fire’s struggles to create and convert quality chances was evident in that game and continued for many of the next several games.

The three-goal outburst against D.C. was a sign that the Fire may be getting the attack back in gear. David Accam, whose six chances created were most in MLS this past weekend, said the attack is not quite back to its peak.

“At the moment we are creating more chances,” Accam said. “We’re not sharp in front of goal. Before we were. We were creating, we were sharp, but now we are only creating. We’re not sharp. We are still working in training at trying to be sharper in front of goal in games.”

Defensively, the Fire has allowed one goal in the past three matches. In the previous eight matches, the team allowed 19 goals. As Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster returned from injury, and Joao Meira is right behind after coming off the bench against D.C., the Fire’s defensive record seems to have improved.

That doesn’t mean the team has a clean bill of health. Both Bastian Schweinsteiger (calf) and Juninho (knee) were not at training on Tuesday. Luis Solignac (thigh) and Daniel Johnson (knee) were both limited to running. Even without Schweinsteiger and Juninho, the Fire produced in a convincing win against D.C.

McCarty wasn’t worried the team would turn things around, but he has noticed more confidence in the team after getting seven points from the last three games.

“Certainly there’s more confidence in the group,” McCarty said. “We know we’re a good team. We know we can win games. Now it’s about how good can we be? We’re going to have to play our best if we’re going to be successful because I think we’ve shown that if we drop our level, even just a little bit, we’re just not good enough to win games in this league. We have to be very good every time we step on the field because other teams have certain aspects where maybe they’re stronger than us in, but if we can be at our best I like our chances against anyone.”