Sean Johnson called up to US national team


Sean Johnson called up to US national team

Jeremy Mikula

Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was called up to the U.S. national team Monday when head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his 20-player squad for Wednesdays friendly with Russia.

Johnson, 23, has two previous caps with the U.S. and is available for selection due to the Fires elimination from the MLS Cup playoffs on Oct. 31.

There was obvious disappointed that we didnt make it further in the playoffs but Im looking forward now, Johnson told the Fires official website. Its a positive thing to be in with this group again and I think its an important thing for us. Im excited to be back with the guys again and looking forward to the game against Russia.

Johnson is one of three MLS players called up to the squad, joining Chivas USAs Juan Agudelo and Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando. Meanwhile, Russia is currently ranked No. 9 in the world.

We ask for these games because they are big learning curves for us, Klinsmann said in a statement. We need to measure ourselves against the best teams out there and build even more confidence. We want to close the year in a very positive way and then go into a busy 2013 that includes World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup and some exciting friendlies.

The U.S. will play Russia in Krasnodar at 9 a.m. CT on Wednesday.

Veljko Paunovic: 'We conceded too many innocent mistakes' in New York


Veljko Paunovic: 'We conceded too many innocent mistakes' in New York

Major League Soccer is very forgiving when it comes to the playoff race. Even now, with less than a month left in the season, every team is mathematically still alive.

However, the Chicago Fire are in last place in the league and are falling out of contact with the teams just above them in the standings. The Fire have 27 points and are five points behind the closest teams, Houston and Columbus, which have both won two games in a row.

With that in mind, coach Veljko Paunovic seems to have slightly changed his tone regarding the team and the season in general. After the 4-1 loss to New York City FC on Friday, Paunovic said the team “had a really bad game” defensively. He also talked about the Fire “coming back” next year, something he has previously avoided doing while keeping his focus squarely on the next game ahead.

Paunovic reiterated some of those thoughts in Monday’s conference call with media.

“Of course we are not happy with our defensive performance (in New York),” Paunovic said. “I think for us the maturity is still something we have to do. It’s our main task this year I think. I think in this game we conceded too many innocent mistakes and opportunities to our opponent who was very motivated.”

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The Fire set a club-record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal earlier this season (411 minutes), but have given up 18 goals in the past eight MLS matches. The 18th goal the Fire allowed in MLS play came in the 14th match of the season. This is currently the worst defensive stretch, purely in goals allowed, of the season.

The rise in goals allowed has coincided with an improvement from the Fire’s attack. The Fire have scored in 10 straight matches, which is a notable accomplishment considering the team was shutout in four of its first 10 matches in 2016. Despite the offensive improvement, the defensive downturn is concerning for Paunovic.

“I think in some points of the season we were very strong,” Paunovic said of the Fire’s defense. “These last couple of games I’m not happy with the performance, but we are working on that to fix it.”

The Fire have five games left to “fix” these mistakes. The team is not realistically in the playoff race anymore and a tough pair of games are coming up. The Fire visit Seattle on Wednesday and will fly straight to Columbus for a game three days later. Both teams have won two straight and are surging towards the playoff race.

It won't be easy for the Fire to end the season with some positive results. Paunovic said part of his job is keeping the team motivated, but also said there is extra pressure that goes with being in last place in the standings.

“The team is fighting for not being last on the standings in the league,” Paunovic said. “That pressure sometimes is too big.

“We have to mature. Fortunately we had to commit too many mistakes to pay that price and I believe that the team is getting better, but we still have to work on that.”

Fire give up two goals in a minute in loss at New York City FC


Fire give up two goals in a minute in loss at New York City FC

For about six minutes things looked pretty good for the Chicago Fire.

That changed quickly.

After earning three corner kicks in the first six minutes, the Fire allowed two goals in rapid succession in a 4-1 loss to New York City FC on Friday. Jefferson Mena kneed in the first goal on a designed short corner kick routine and David Villa doubled the lead a minute later to give the hosts a two-goal lead less than 10 minutes into the match.

Andrea Pirlo played a short corner in the eighth minute that led to Khiry Shelton centering the ball with a header. Mena was open in front to score with his knee and make it 1-0.

Almost exactly 60 seconds after Mena found the net, Villa was there to score again. The Fire turned it over soon after the kickoff and Villa didn’t miss his chance in the box.

That disastrous sequence left the Fire (6-14-9, 27 points) chasing for the rest of the match.

[MORE FIRE: What to watch for in the rest of the Fire's 2016 season]

Arturo Alvarez sparked a number of Fire chances in the rest of the half, including assisting Luis Solignac on a goal. Alvarez picked up his seventh assist of the season with a cross that Solignac headed into the net in the 35th minute.

Alvarez later hit the post on a shot that led to a corner kick. David Villa and NYC (13-9-9, 48 points) countered that corner kick. The result was a Steven Mendoza curled shot past Sean Johnson that restored the two-goal lead just before halftime.

David Villa added NYC’s fourth and his second goal in the 83rd minute.

Fire defender Rodrigo Ramos saw his first action since the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss on Aug. 9. Ramos started at right back after missing the previous eight MLS matches. Also on the backline, Jonathan Campbell did not start for the first time since Aug. 6. Campbell replaced Ramos in the 58th minute.

The Fire go from the East Coast to the West Coast with a match at Seattle on Wednesday.