Unbeaten in 7, Fire Climb to Within a Point of First Place

2017-06-10 CHI v ATL

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

Sometimes, examining the statistics at the conclusion of a soccer match fails to tell the whole story. Following the Chicago Fire’s systematic 2:0 victory over Atlanta United on Saturday at Toyota Park, the statistics really told very little of the story. Atlanta dominated possession (61% to 39%) and passes completed (461 to 304), but their apparently huge advantage translated to just two shots on target and zero goals. The Fire, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, and could have won the game going away if they had made some better decisions in front of goal.

The victory extended their winning streak at home to seven games. Overall, the Fire remain unbeaten in seven. With 28 points from 15 matches, the Fire are close on the heels of leaders Toronto FC (29 points from 15 matches) as the season nears the halfway point. This Fire team is doing a lot of things very well and their position in the table is not a mirage.

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Fire End Grueling Stretch With Another Win

2017-05-25 CHI v FCD

(Photo courtesy mlssoccer.com)

The Chicago Fire extended their unbeaten run to five matches after a systematic 2:1 victory over FC Dallas on Thursday. Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam continued their impressive attacking form, scoring twice within the first nine minutes of the contest. Those goals proved to be enough to ensure all three points over a Dallas side weakened by coach Oscar Pareja’s decision to rest several key players ahead of their Sunday encounter versus Houston. The Fire have 24 points from their 13 matches and are comfortably set in second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Fire managed to get through four matches in the span of twelve days without the loss of any points. Three of those matches were played at Toyota Park, where the team has compiled a glittering 6-0-1 record this season. Coach Veljko Paunovic ignored any potential fatigue issues during this period, staying with essentially the same lineup throughout. The squad put together a solid effort last weekend in DC and rebounded nicely on Thursday, where the speed of play and the sharpness of their passing was significantly improved.

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Fire Road Win? A Capitol Idea!

2017-05-20 DC v CHI

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

The Chicago Fire traveled to Washington, DC on Saturday in search of their first away victory of 2017 and came home with all three points. They put away hapless DC United 1:0, a scoreline that flattered the home team. The Fire created a plethora of chances, and between the heroics of DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid and some of their own poor marksmanship, they missed an opportunity for a blowout win. Nonetheless, the Fire end Week 12 of the MLS season with 21 points from 12 matches, good for second place in the Eastern Conference. They trail leaders Toronto FC by five points, with Toronto having played one more match.

It is certainly gratifying to talk about the top end of the standings, rather than speculating on how the Fire might rise out of the muck and finish above the Red Line. Yes, there’s a lot of soccer left to be played, but this Fire team is doing a good job of ticking the boxes when talking about what it takes to be a competitive team. Their next test comes Thursday versus FC Dallas, who just dropped from the ranks of the undefeated in MLS. If beating Seattle was a “statement game,” a game against Dallas is a genuine measuring stick.

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Can Anyone Stop Nikolic?

2017-05-17 CHI v COL

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

Chicago Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic continued his torrid form on Wednesday, notching two goals in the Fire’s 3:0 wipeout of the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park. The victory kept the Fire undefeated at home this season. Overall, the Fire have 18 points from their 11 matches and they are unquestionably on a roll.

And no one has been on a roll more than Nikolic, who is the league’s top goalscorer, with 10 goals. After a few unremarkable performances early in the season, where Nikolic was frequently caught offside, the striker has been almost unstoppable, scoring at least one goal in six of his last seven games. No Fire player in club history has reached the 10-goal mark in fewer games than Nikolic has. Mike Magee had set the previous mark in 2013, scoring 10 times in his first 16 matches.

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“The Smiles Are Back in Bridgeview …”

2017-05-13 CHI v SEA

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

Those were the words of Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic following his team’s 4:1 demolition of the Seattle Sounders at Toyota Park on Saturday. Nemanja Nikolic tallied two goals and an assist, while David Accam notched a goal and an assist. The Fire and Sounders engaged in a back-and-forth scrap in the first half and the Fire exploded for three goals after the break, as Chicago won the game in style.

And it wasn’t just the four-goal outburst that was impressive, it was the manner with which victory was achieved. The overall possession numbers favored Seattle 52%-48%, but the Fire dominated for long stretches in the second half. They moved the ball rapidly from player to player, always seeking the easy, open pass. After the Fire had scored the third and fourth goals of the match in quick succession, they broke the game down into an 11 v 11 keepaway exercise.

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Fire Go Jekyll and Hyde in LA

2017-05-06 LA v CHI

(Photo courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

The Chicago Fire finished off their third consecutive away match with a solidly earned point in a 2:2 draw versus the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, but no one felt like celebrating. The Fire had roared out to a 2:0 lead in the first half in dominant fashion and seemed poised to bury the Galaxy. They could not complete the job, however, thanks to irresponsible defending during two Galaxy corner kicks in the second half.

The game had an air of craziness surrounding it right from the start. The Fire were up by a pair within 16 minutes, prompting Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo to replace captain and center back Jelle van Damme in the 33rd minute with Dave Romney. Then, midfielder Jermaine Jones was forced to withdraw just before the break due to injury. Los Angeles turned the momentum in their favor in the second half and managed to claw their way back to level things at 2:2. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic made his own curious substitution right after the equalizer, bringing on Michael de Leeuw for David Accam, whose play was responsible for both of the Fire’s goals, and who was a constant threat to the Galaxy backline.

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Fire Create Boatload of Chances, Sink in NY

2017-04-29 NYRB v CHI

(Photo coutesy mlssoccer.com)

The Chicago Fire traveled to Harrison, NJ to take on the New York Red Bulls last Friday, intent on snapping New York’s 18-match home unbeaten streak, and solidifying their place in the Eastern Conference table. The Fire were not afraid to push the game at the Red Bulls, but crucial mistakes in front of New York’s goal prevented the Fire from cashing in on the plethora of scoring chances that they conjured. The Red Bulls parlayed Fire errors on the defensive side into a 2:1 win. After eight games, the Fire remain on eleven points in a tight race in the East, where third place and eighth place are separated by just three points.

Will the Fire come to regret coming away with nothing from this match? Poor execution in the basics was their undoing. Some of it may be corrected as teamwork and cohesion improve, but other problems are inherent because talent is lacking. Coach Veljko Paunovic is going to have examine which players can be flexible in new positions, or whether his team can adapt to new tactics to overcome their weaknesses. The other option is for Nelson Rodriguez to bring in new players to compete for spots.

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Engine Company: America’s Hat – A Tale of Chicago’s Evil Canadian Twin

Seeing The Men in Red play at home is really just half the fun, but not all Fire fans are able to see them anywhere else. To experience the joys of an Away Game by proxy, OTF contributor Jacob Peters provides us some background on Fire supporter group history on-the-road, established rivalries, and some footnotes on how to effectively criticize, troll, and generally enjoy Fire away games. 

Sing in full voice. Hate with reason…

Toronto is kind of like an alternate reality Chicago.  One in which we didn’t tear out our Streetcars in the 50s, decided to randomly insert “u’s” into our words unnecessarily, expanded Meigs Field into a discount airline hub, and never built the elevated portions of the “L”.  It’s also an alternate reality in which the Chicago Fire built a stadium downtown adjacent to McCormick Place (this guy’s still holding onto that dream), and then we expanded it with an epic roof.

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Toyota Park is nice, but this…drool

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Nose to the Grindstone, Three Points Banked

2017-04-08 CHI v CLB

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

Following their 1:1 draw in Columbus in the season opener, the Chicago Fire came out intent to improve on that outcome in the second match of the 2017 series at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire blazed out of the gate and cashed in with a well taken strike from sniper Nemanja Nikolic. That lone goal proved to be enough, as an organized Fire defense thwarted the Crew at every turn. Poor marksmanship by the visitors certainly made the job easier for the Fire. The victory gives the Fire eight points from five matches and they trail first-place Columbus by two points; the Crew, however, have played one more game.

With central midfielder Juninho suspended, coach Veljko Paunovic shook up his formation into a 3-4-3. Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira and Jonathan Campbell started in front of goalie Jorge Bava. Michael Harrington and Brandon Vincent morphed from their normal fullback roles into wingbacks, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty patrolled the middle. Michael de Leeuw and David Accam flanked Nikolic up front. The switch in formation gave Campbell another opportunity to show that he belongs in the eleven, and it forced Arturo Alvarez into a seat on the bench.

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Engine Company: Crew on Fire — A History of Hate

To experience the joys of supporter culture by-proxy OTF contributor Jacob Peters provides us some background on Fire history, rivalries, and some footnotes on how to effectively criticize, troll, and generally enjoy Fire games. Next up, Saturday’s home match-up against Our All-Time Most Disliked Team, the Cleveland  Cincinnati Columbus Crew.  As always…

Sing in full voice. Hate with reason.

On Saturday Chicago Fire plays host to a “city’ which has been affectionally called everything from “a Suburb of Detroit” to “Cowtown” by the Fire faithful. A few times each year, this poor team is allowed to escape their oft-ablaze dump of an overgrown high school football field and see how “the other people live.”

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Burn On, Big Bus

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New Guy Looks Good, But Can’t Do Everything

CHI v MON 2017-04-01

(Photo courtesy Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

Bastian Schweinsteiger’s debut for the Chicago Fire on Saturday hardly could have gone better had it been scripted. He scored to put his team on top and was the midfield general that the Fire so desperately need him to be. Unfortunately, a Designated Player can only do so much on his own;  the Fire were plagued by lackluster finishing and some unforgivable defending and had to settle for a share of the points with the Montreal Impact in a 2:2 draw.

Schweinsteiger, after just three days of training, seemed to fit comfortably into the Fire’s midfield. He could be found at either end of the field and almost everywhere in between, making himself the focal point of the Fire’s attack. He was everywhere that he needed to be and basically took the wheel and started driving the car. The message he seemed to be imparting was, “Follow me, boys, let’s go score some goals.” Although the Fire found the back of the net just twice on Saturday, one can imagine that the scoring chances will be piling up once the new guy gets in sync with the rest of his teammates.

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OTF Roundtable: The Signal, The Noise, and The German

Making predictions is hard. And it becomes even harder when the information you are working with is, well… noisy. In Nate Silver’s book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t,” he connects our ineptability to make accurate predictions (humans, not Fire fans) as an evolutionary problem identifying the truth from nonsense.

In a line that feels very Chicago Fire-y, Silver says, “Some stone-age strengths have become information-age weaknesses.” Let’s replace “stone-age,” with “MLS 1.0,” pause for a moment, and then move on.

It’s been a really noisy four weeks: An opening draw against a Columbus team that might be awful, a shrug-then-bunker opening day against half an RSL side, then a dizzying loss to Atlanta that gave us about eight minutes of actual soccer to work with.  Bad soccer.

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Commentary: Bastian Schweinsteiger Can Be an Influential Fire Player

2017-03-27 Schweinsteiger

(Photo courtesy Martin Meissner, Associated Press)

Last week, the Chicago Fire completed the long-awaited deal to bring German international icon Bastian Schweinsteiger to MLS. Schweinsteiger signed for the 2017 season with a mutual option for 2018. His salary for this season was reported to be $4.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in club history. The midfielder represents the first high-profile player to join the Fire since Cuauhtemoc Blanco in 2007.

It didn’t take long for the naysayers to offer their criticism of Schweinsteiger’s arrival: he’s too old, he’s too injury-prone, he’s a bad fit in a crowded midfield. Typical of the negative reaction was this piece written by Nate Scott at Fox Sports. Is such a reaction valid? Can a team who has “won” the Wooden Spoon two years running really turn their back on a player like Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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Atlanta Pummels Ineffective Fire

ATL v CHI 2017-03-18

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

When Chicago Fire Equipment Manager Brian Sauer packed up the gear for the road trip to Atlanta, he likely did not put life preservers on the list of things to bring. Too bad, because the Fire looked like castaways floating at sea for much of the 4:0 hammering administered by the home team. The Fire were beaten soundly in every phase of the game. Clearly, Atlanta is not your typical MLS expansion team.

The match blew up in the Fire’s faces within the first quarter hour. Brandon Vincent’s unfortunate own goal in the fourth minute gave Atlanta a huge emotional boost and the unwarranted dismissal of Johan Kappelhof in the eleventh minute threw Veljko Paunovic’s lineup into chaos. No one can say for sure how the Fire might have played at even strength, but the ferocity and relentlessness with which Atlanta attacked the Fire was draining and debilitating.  Continue reading

Engine Company: Set Atlanta on Fire

Seeing The Men in Red play at home is really just half the fun, but not all Fire fans are able to see them anywhere else. To experience the joys of an Away Game by proxy, OTF contributor Jacob Peters provides us some background on Fire supporter group history on-the-road, established rivalries, and some footnotes on how to effectively criticize, troll, and generally enjoy Fire away games. First up,  Saturday’s match-up against MLS newbies Atlanta United FC.  

Sing in full voice. Hate with reason…

Most rundowns of Fire matches this season come with some history of why particular trips are marked on fan schedules far in advance, and how memories of past trips deepen Fire fandom. But this is Atlanta United FC—a team as new as their name is unoriginal (and nonsensical if you’ve ever experienced the disconnected sprawl that is metro Atlanta). So, in lieu of actual history, here’s a brief history of why first trips have a special spot in the hearts of many a Fire fan.
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Fire Get the Job Done in Home Opener vs RSL

The Chicago Fire won’t win awards for stylish soccer after their first two matches of the 2017 campaign, but there are plenty of indications that they are on the right path. Their 2:0 win on Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park was built on pragmatism, hard work, and taking advantage of opportunity.

On the day, RSL won just about every statistical battle, generating more shots, generating more corner kicks, and coming out on top in the possession battle. All of their possession amounted to precious little, as only one of their twelve shots was on target. Their mostly toothless attack was missing that final decisivetouch and it makes one wonder whether they jettisoned Javier Morales too soon.

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Fire Deliver on Pauno’s Promise

2016-10-16-chi-v-ne

(Photo courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was adamant that his team reward the home fans with a victory in the team’s final home game on Sunday, and his players did not disappoint, knocking off the New England Revolution 2:1. The Fire played simple and fluid football and were not far away from finding the back of the net on several occasions. The victory also reversed an ugly trend of dropping points when playing from a winning position. After taking an early lead, the Fire gave away a poor equalizer, but shook off that setback by delivering a winner ten minutes from the end.

With the Fire resigned long ago that they would not be playing playoff soccer, fans and media alike have wondered why Paunovic would not allocate some playing time for younger players who have not featured much this season. Paunovic stuck to his plan and chose not to hand out minutes like they were a Cracker Jack prize.

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Two Thoughts On Fire v Crew

2016-10-13-chi-v-clb

(Photo courtesy of chicago-fire.com)

The Fire fought back from an early deficit, took the lead, but ultimately failed to hang on, and they shared the points with Columbus on Thursday at Toyota Park. Here are two quick thoughts about the match.

Pauno ain’t playing the kids
Speculation has been raised in the media on whether Veljko Paunovic would provide playing opportunities to his younger, less experienced players once the Fire were officially eliminated from the playoffs. The Fire’s lineups in recent matches have shown no indication of a youth movement. Paunovic wants to win games, regardless of the circumstances, and he’s putting his first-choice players out there. Whether his approach is the best one is ripe source for debate.

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Basement Door About to Close on Fire

2016-10-01-clb-v-chi

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

The Fire ended their three-game swing away from Toyota Park on Saturday in desultory fashion, a 3:0 defeat to the Columbus Crew in a match that felt as though the deficit was much bigger. Last place in the Eastern Conference is almost assured, as the Fire trail both Columbus and Orlando by eight points with three games left on the schedule.

The Fire keep looking for improvements, but the cupboard is looking pretty barren these days. The Fire looked impotent in two of the three matches and were outpossessed 71%-29% in the first half of the Seattle match. The Fire dumped their coaching staff and most of their roster after their awful showing in 2015. What remedies can they possibly create at this point?

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Fire No Strangers to Cellar

2013-09-28-sea-v-chi

(Photo courtesy soundersfc.com)

 

Right around the time the Chicago Fire had racked up 3:0 victories over Montreal and Philadelphia, coach Veljko Paunovic declared that his team had turned a corner, and that observers would be surprised by the Fire’s performances going forward. With just one point in their last four matches, there is nothing surprising nor promising about the Fire. Wednesday’s 1:0 loss at Seattle merely confirmed how far this team still has to go before they can be consistently competitive. Once something breaks down, very little seems to go right.

Paunovic put out what is likely his strongest 11 versus Seattle. Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell returned to the starting lineup, allowing Johan Kappelhof to slide over to right back, a position from which he can make a maximum contribution. An improvement on the defensive side was essential for the Fire, who looked ragged, disheveled and disorganized against New York. Restoring a stable back four was a key element towards improvement. Seattle dominated possession and did create a handful of nervous moments for the Fire, but the back four held together reasonably well. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was a key performer in this effort. He generally controlled his box with authority and registered several important saves.

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NYC Leave Fire Defense In Tatters

2016-09-23-nyc-v-chi

(Photo courtesy nycfc.com)

It took only a New York minute for NYCFC to take total control over the Chicago Fire in Friday’s match at Yankee Stadium. In those brief seconds, a scoreless match became 2:0 for NYC, and the two punches to the gut left the Fire on the canvas. They spent the remainder of the match searching for answers and wound up finding few, leaving New York 4:1 losers. For anyone who watched this match with eyes open, it was evident that the final score very much flattered the Fire.

Sure, the Fire had a spell of positive soccer in the latter part of the first half, and yes, Luis Solignac’s balletic header to bring the Fire to within 2:1 might have given the most dreamy-eyed optimists a sliver of hope. But NYC had been plowing through the Fire defense right from the jump, and only some poor shooting and several important Sean Johnson interventions prevented the score from reaching epically embarrassing proportions.

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This Song Is Too Familiar

2016-09-16-chi-v-dc

(Photo courtesy Mike Di Novo USA Today Sports)

The Chicago Fire thought that they had done enough to earn victory over DC United on Friday after having built a solid 2:1 lead in the first half. They were not successful in finding that crucial third goal to provide some cushion, and DC scratched out an equalizer in the third minute of second-half stoppage time. The Fire ended their three-game stretch of home matches with a disappointing total of four points, as they continue to languish in the depths of the Eastern Conference table.

The Fire proved once again how sensitive their fortunes are when they give away goals cheaply. DC’s first goal was just such a scenario and it forced the Fire to make an uphill climb that seems to be part of the script every week. As it often happens, the ending of the story is not a happy one.

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3 Things About the Fire’s Loss to TFC

2016-09-10-chi-v-tfc

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

The Chicago Fire went down 2:1 to Toronto FC last Saturday in disappointing fashion. Here are three thoughts about how the game went and what could have gone differently for the Fire.
The Fire continue to battle

Yes, the Fire are still mired in the depths of the Eastern Conference standings. Yes, the people in the Fire locker room are probably the only ones who don’t think that playoff talk is silly. But this team continues to bring the fight every week.The only thing that is a realistic motivator for the players at this point is that they are auditioning for jobs on the 2017 roster. The players seem to be buying into coach Veljko Paunovic’s undying optimism concerning the team’s fortunes.

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Fire Get Back on Winning Track

2016-09-03 CHI v PHI

(Photo courtesy chicago-fire.com)

If any psychological demons remained in the Chicago Fire’s locker room following their 6:2 debacle at RFK Stadium last week, they were exorcised on Saturday when the Fire swept the Philadelphia Union out of town by a resounding 3:0 scoreline. The Fire played some attractive soccer at times, and were competent on both sides of the ball. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up big in crucial moments. The mix of these successful ingredients resulted in three points and the Fire nudged their way past Columbus to escape the Eastern Conference cellar.

Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez described the result versus DC United as an anomaly during a media conference call last week. After that feeble effort, it was hard to tell whether the match truly was an exception, or whether the Fire’s recent string of improving performances was nothing more than a mirage.

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DC Give Fire a Good Thrashing

2016-08-27 DCU v CHI

(Photo courtesy Tony Quinn)

The Fire ended their heavy schedule of three matches in a week with an absolutely dreadful display against DC United. Striker Patrick Mullins registered a hat trick en route to a 6:2 whitewash. The teams combined for five goals in a wild first half. Things went downhill for Chicago after the break. Tired legs, a lack of motivation, and playing down a man all contributed to the debacle. The last time the Fire conceded six goals in a match was 2003.

Coach Veljko Pauno Paunovic tried his best to maintain a stable 11 and continue the successes gained in the last two matches. He made just two changes from the the lineup he used versus the Galaxy; Razvan Cocis gave David Accam a break and John Goosens was in his familiar midfield role, in place of Arturo Alvarez.

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