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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