Fire's depth being tested in busy stretch

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Fire's depth being tested in busy stretch

The Fires bench is being tested now, no doubt about that.

Faced with his clubs third game in seven nights, coach Frank Klopas left attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini home for Saturdays road match against the Columbus Crew, starting Rafael Robayo in his place. He also gave Frederico Puppo a start up top in place of Dominic Oduro.

None of those moves worked out very well, as the Crew scored twice in the first half and then held on for a 2-1 victory. That result pulled the Crew (5-4-3) into a tie with the Fire (5-4-3) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, suggesting theyll be battling each other for a playoff berth for the remaining two-thirds of the season.

And that might not be the only battleground for the long-time rivals. If both win their third-round matches in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, theyll collide in that competition on June 5 at Toyota Park. Thats entirely likely, as both face minor league opponents on Tuesday. The Fire face the Michigan Bucks, a member of the Premier Development League, in Pontiac, Mich., while the Crew take on the Dayton Dutch Lions.

As for Saturdays match, the Fire disappointed the 600 loyal fans who piled into 10 buses for the trip to Columbus a journey paid for by the club. The Crew, on a roll with a 3-0-2 record in its last five games, were like the Fire playing its third match in seven nights.

Columbus scored twice in the first half. Klopas then replaced Puppo and Marco Pappa with Oduro and Orr Barouch at the outset of the second half. The new combination generated some chances, but a header by rookie defender Austin Berry in the 71st minute was the only goal the Fire could muster.

"The fight, the character of the guys in the second half was tremendous," said Fire captain Logan Pause. "The guys who came on, the subs, were fantastic. Weve got a group of capable guys, not just our first 11."

Chances are Klopas will have to go deeper into his bench on Tuesday, because the changes on Saturday werent entirely satisfactory.

"We looked a little bit tired at times," said Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich, speaking on Klopas behalf after the match. "The guys battled through that. Mentally they were very strong. We could have gotten 2-2."

Instead the loss was the first to an Eastern Conference opponent in more than a year (a 1-0 defeat at Philadelphia on May 21, 2011 was the last).

The Fire will be playing its fourth game in 10 nights in its first Open Cup test of 2012. The club has made the 99-year-old tournament a high priority since winning the title in the epic inaugural season of 1998. The Fire has won the Dewar Cup four times and lost in the finals twice, the last being a 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders last season.

All amateur and professional teams registered with the U.S. Soccer Federation are eligible for the Open Cup, and those not in MLS have to battle through preliminary rounds before getting a crack at the big-leaguers. The Bucks got their chance with a dramatic 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The Riverhounds are in the United Soccer Leagues Pro Division, and the match was played in Bridgeville, Pa. Still, the PDL club advanced thanks to Stew Givens goal in second-half stoppage time. Givens was the PDLs defender of the year in 2011.

Though the Fire have a sterling 28-9-3 record in Open Cup play, the club hasnt won the summer-long tourney since 2006 when Dave Sarachan was the head coach. The other titles came in 2000 and 2003. In 14 seasons the Fire has reached the Open Cup semifinals eight times.

Edgy Tim goes one-on-one with Mount Carmel's Terrance Taylor

Edgy Tim goes one-on-one with Mount Carmel's Terrance Taylor

Mount Carmel junior defensive end/outside linebacker Terrance Taylor (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) was simply one of the most impressive overall performers at the EDGYTIM Underclassmen Showcase, powered by EFT Football Academy.

Taylor, who worked out as a linebacker at the showcase, also plays defensive end for Hall of Fame head coach Frank Lenti's Caravan. Taylor, who has two early verbal scholarship offers from Central Michigan and Toledo, has the look, tools, overall physical upside and potential to become a highly sought after recruit in the Class of 2018.

Take a few minutes to meet Taylor in the video above.

Fire showing patience with emotional Dax McCarty

Fire showing patience with emotional Dax McCarty

The Chicago Fire opened its preseason on Monday, but much of the focus was on a player that wasn’t there: Dax McCarty.

The Fire traded for the midfielder from the New York Red Bulls last week and he is in camp with the U.S. national team.

Leaving New York hasn’t been easy for McCarty. He tweeted a lengthy thank you note to Red Bull fans on Sunday and still hasn’t mentioned anything about the Fire publically.

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic visited McCarty at national team camp last week to make introductions.

“We obviously knew that this had to come as a surprise to him,” Rodriguez said on Monday. “A captain of another team, he had just gotten married. There’s never a good time to have unexpected change hit you.”

Getting McCarty on board with what the club is building is going to be key for the team’s success in 2017. Integrating McCarty and the other high-profile offseason additions, fellow midfielder Juninho and striker Nemanja Nikolic, into what Paunovic wants to implement will play a big role in how the Fire start the season. In order to do so effectively means making McCarty happy with his new team.

“For sure he’s a very, very emotional guy,” Paunovic said. “I like the way he expressed how he feels at this point. We all have to empathize with that and respect his time and the situation that he is going through.”

As poor as the timing of McCarty being traded two days after getting married was, it could be to the Fire’s benefit that McCarty is with the national team now and can have some time to process the change before arriving in preseason camp with the Fire in Florida in February.

“We are waiting for him here with open arms and waiting for him to come back, to handle all this situation, to go through that, then come here clear with desire that he played so far, with the same passion, with the same effort on and off the field and for sure with leadership that he will bring to our locker room,” Paunovic said.

For now, both Rodriguez and Paunovic are preaching patience. Rodriguez said McCarty was the top target of the Fire and said the move was six months in the making.

“We respected his need to breathe and to have time to go through his emotions, to spend time with his wife,” Rodriguez said. “I think everything will come in its due course and when his time with the national team camp ends we’ll give him a little time that he might need to recover from that camp and to attend to some personal matters and we’ll embrace him when he comes.

“For those of us that are married we know that happy wife equals happy life so we have work to do with Dax and his wife and his family and having them feel comfortable about Chicago. They were looking to put down roots in New York. Whether it’s unexpected like that or it’s someone like Nemanja Nikolic who chose us and chose to come here, we still have to work with him and his family and acclimating them. Our approach and our attitude is the same, although the circumstances are different. We have to be empathetic to the sensitivity that Dax and his wife are going through.”