Fire/Red Stars analysis and notes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Red Stars Vanessa DiBernardo and Orlando’s Becky Edwards try to get the upper leg on a play Saturday night.




WHEN: 9 p.m., Wednesday

WHERE: BC Place, Vancouver



LAST TIME: The Fire had a 57.8 percent mark possession, but gave up a goal in the 86th minute to Octavio Rivero for a 1-0 in Bridgeview on March 14, 2015.


So through seven games – five of which were at home – what have we learned about the Chicago Fire?

Well, the team can win playing in the snow. It beat Philadelphia, 1-0, April 2 in a snowstorm at Toyota Park.

But that’s been about it.

The Fire have either lost or tied in every other situation, the latest coming in the form of a 1-1 tie with D.C. United during a rainstorm Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 13, 114 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The draw dropped the Fire to 1-2-4 and in 10th place in the 10-team Major Soccer League Eastern Conference with seven points.

The offense continued to struggle with the continuing left knee injury of David Accam and Friday’s knee injury to John Goossens (he could be out four weeks) and Matt Polster banged up. While Jonathan Campbell was able to score in the soup in the first half, his goal was the only shot on target for the team and the Fire has been able to just get eight shots on target in the last six games.

“It’s been a bit of a disappointment offensively and not being able to finish,’’ said Alturo Alvarez, who assisted Campbell’s goal. “We’ll take a point, but we are going to start having to win games like these.’’

Help is on the way. It wasn’t official Monday but Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the team was close to signing 22-year-old MTK Budapest midfielder Khali Thain and the deal was done on Wednesday.

“We believe having him will be very important,” Paunovic said. “He’s very good on the ball.  With him, we will increase our competitiveness.’’

The defense was sharp again Saturday, allowing D.C. Untied (2-3-4) just three shots on target but one was a header goal in the 64th-minute by former Fire player Patrick Nyarko.

The Fire is in jeopardy of being pushed even further down the ladder in last place in the conference. Its next three games are on the road and it hasn't won a road game since beating New England, July 12, 2014 – a span of 27 games.

Go figure

Nyrarko spent eight seasons with the Fire and had 20 goals and 39 assists in 196 regular-season matches before being traded Jan. 6.

“That’s just how soccer works, doesn’t it?’’ said United coach Ben Olsen said of Nyarko’s header. “You know he’s going to want to come back here and get something.’’

Roster roulette

Accam was on the bench and on the active roster for the D.C. United game but Paunovic said he was never going to play in the game. The midfielder could be back for the Vancouver contest.

Veteran goalie Sean Johnson was able to back up starter Matt Lampson after returning from a wrist injury but he was not on the available roster as the coaching staff opted to go with Patrick McLain as the alternate.

“It’s a technical reason,” Paunovic said. “We need (Johnson) to get back in the right form so that he can fight for his spot.’’

After this weekend…

The Fire has this weekend off but then squishes five games into a 17-game span starting Wednesday at Vancouver and ending at Toyota Park May 28 against the defending MSL champion Portland Timbers.




WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Jordan Field at Harvard University in Boston



LAST TIME: Christen Press’s goal in the 90th minute gave the Red Stars a 2-1 victory in Boston on July 22.

This was a recipe for a crummy night.

The Chicago Red Stars, who showed they could either be brilliant (a shutout against Western New York in week 2) or horrid (giving up three goals against Houston in week 1) was forced to play without their top defensive player, Julie Johnston, Saturday night against Orlando and star player Alex Morgan.

It was up to Arin Gilliland, Katie Naughton, Carey Short and Sam Johnson on defense to try to stop the Pride and Morgan and they came through, racking up a 1-0 victory in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. 

Christen Press score the match’s only goal in the 65th minute and the defense pitched a shutout as the team improved to 2-1-0. Katie Naughton, one of three players on the roster from Elk Grove Village, replaced Johnston and the team didn’t miss a beat, racking up its second straight shutout.

“I think this is the first time I coached a game against Morgan where she didn’t score against us,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames  said. "Our biggest strategy was not lot to let her get behind us. We needed to keep her in front of us and if she did something from a distance to beat us, we would have been OK with that.’’

Morgan had 99 goals in 180 appearances in her senior and national team career heading into Saturday’s action.

“This was my first time playing Alex,” Johnson said. “We trained to not let her speed kills us. We had to be aware of where she was at all times.’’

That turned out to be the recipe for a great night.

 Johnston eyes return Saturday

Johnston re-aggravated a groin injury that she suffered in December but Dames wasn’t planning on taking any chances against the Pride. Or for her future in this year’s Olympics.

“She could have gone – probably for a half,” Dames said. “We were more of the mindset that we would rather just sit her. We want to get her 100 percent rather than going back and forth with it. It’s always difficult with Julie because we have a bigger responsibility. This week we were talking to the U.S. Soccer team doctor and trainer. It was basically Julie’s call today. It didn’t loosen up for her and we weren’t going to risk it.’’

Dames said he hopes she will be ready for Saturday’s game at Boston.

 Being the Julie

Johnson said she tried to be to Naughton what Johnston was to her when she started.

“I remember how I felt my first game and Julie was very supportive,’’ Johnson said. “I was freaking out and she gave me confidence.  I tried to be the Julie in this case and I tried to give Katie confidence. But she didn’t really need it because she’s a great player.’’




Chicago Fire notes heading into D.C. game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview


D.C. RECORD: 2-3-3

LAST TIME: D.C. beat the Fire 4-0 in Washington on Oct. 18.

Accam likely not ready for D.C. United game

With an offense that has seen just seven on-target shots in the past five matches, Chicago Fire officials were hoping that last week’s bye week would enable offensive threat David Accam to be ready for Saturday’s game against D.C. United.

But Accam, who has been out with a left knee injury suffered March 11 against Orlando City, did not progress much last week and even though he is progressing more this week, he still hasn’t practiced and it’s doubtful he will be ready for Saturday.

“We want him back but it’s not a minor injury and we have to be smart about this in our approach,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said on Monday. “He’s working hard with our medical team to try to get back as soon as possible.

“We don’t any to make this injury worse. If he can come back (Saturday) and he’s ready and the doctors are OK and give him a full-go, that’s perfect. But we don’t expect that.’’

Accam led the team with 10 goals last year and had two in his first two matches this year before bowing out with the injury.’

 Johnson back

Goalie Sean Johnson, who has missed the past three games with a wrist injury, will be available Saturday but the longest-tenured Fire player (seven seasons) did not play the first three games because Paunovic chose Matt Lampson to start.

Johnson got some playing time in during a scrimmage Friday.

“Everybody is fighting for their spot,” Paunovic said. “We’re very happy to have Sean back because he can compete for his spot and that makes our team better. It for sure makes our practices better. We have more competition.’’

 Looking for that rock of Gilberto

Gilberto’s no-goal, one-assist total from six matches is not pleasing Paunovic.

“The team needs him and his capacity to score goals,’’ the coach said. “He needs to step up in the coming game. He has worked very hard and we’re being patient with him. But at some point – better sooner than later – we hope he steps up and scores goals and helps the team.’’

 Familiar face

Zach Thornton, who played with the Fire from 1998-2006, is an assistant coach for D.C. United.

Red Stars analysis and notes: Give Toyota Park an assist

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Red Stars players Alyssa Mautz, left, and Sofia Huerta, right, hound Samantha Mewis of the Western New York Flash in Saturday’s shutout victory.

The Chicago Red Stars won their first game of 2016 thanks to a goal from Naperville’s Casey Short and an assist from Bridgeview’s Toyota Park.

Wait a minute. Toyota Park? It can’t execute a push pass or head the ball to a teammate. It’s a stadium.

Well, the way Western New York Flash coach Paul Riley explained it after the Red Stars’ 1-0 victory over his team Saturday night, the Red Stars’ new digs may have had a hand in the victory.

The Flash came in with a 1-0-0 record and knocked off defending National Women’s Soccer League champion FC Kansas City, 1-0, the previous weekend.

“We might have been a little awed by this stadium the way we played the first half,” Riley said.

So, at least for one match, the stadium paid off dividends after switching from Benedictine University to Toyota Park in the offseason.

In the seats? The Red Stars did not release an attendance figure and it would take guesswork to figure if they drew more than 1,000 so there will be work to be done, there.

But those in attendance were able to see the Red Stars (1-1-0) improve on defense drastically after giving up three goals in a 3-1 loss to Houston on April 17.

“Let’s not talk about (the Houston game),” said Red Stars coach Rory Dames. “Let’s just say they were much more organized and worked hard to fix some of the things we got wrong. I thought they were great this week.’’

Short found the bottom right corner of the net after her shot deflected off a Flash defender at the 28-minute mark for the lone goal of the game. It was her first NWSL goal in just her second game in the league. She was drafted by Boston in 2013 and acquired by the Red Stars in 2014 but never played because of two knee injuries.

The defender played in Norway in 2015 before coming back to the Red Stars.

“It felt great to finally put one in,” she said.





WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday.

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: This is the first meeting between the two teams as it is Orlando’s first year in the league.


Staying out of controversy

Red Stars star Christen Press is tactfully keeping her distance when commenting on five U.S. women’s team players filing a wage discrimination against U.S. Soccer in March.

Press, who played on the U.S. team that won the World Cup in 2015 and is a finalist for this year’s Olympic squad, says the suit has nothing to do with the Red Stars’ organization or the National Women’s Soccer League.

“I think it’s completely separate as far as I know,” Press said. “The coolest thing about our national team is our ability to keep all of that stuff off the field and be able to play at a high level. It’s not something we’re thinking about or talking about. We’re just doing our jobs.’’

There has been speculation that members of the U.S. team could boycott the Olympics.

“At this point, my job isn’t really to speculate what we will be doing off the field,” Press said. “My job is to perform. There is a lot of things that have to happen before I worry about boycotting the Olympics. I mean, I’m trying to make the Olympic squad and I’m trying to have a great season. I’m not thinking about that.’’

What’s her name?

The Red Stars host Orlando Saturday – a team that beat Houston, 3-1 on Saturday, one week after Houston beat the Red Stars, 3-1.

The Pride is a first-year team that is making noise early as its debut win drew a National Woman’s Soccer League record 23,403. And the play on the field isn’t bad either.

“(Coach Tim Sermanni) did a great job putting that team together – there is quality all over the field,” Re stars coach Rory Dames said. “They have a player who is up front who is dangerous. I can’t remember her name but she is dangerous.’’

He was joking about not knowing star Alex Morgan, who is an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion.



Chicago Fire analysis and notes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 2 Kennedy 4 21

 Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Chicago Fire’s Kennedy Igboananike flies during a header against Montreal on Saturday. He later scored the team’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Montreal. 


What the Chicago Fire could use is a Didier Drogba.

The 38-year-old, who has been keeping himself out of most Montreal Impact games this year because he didn’t like playing on artificial surfaces, came into the natural grass of Toyota Park Saturday in Bridgeview against the Fire in the 50th minute of the game and his team down, 1-0.

He made an impact for the Impact.

Six minutes after getting in the game, Drogba tied the game up with a goal to shift the momentum around. And in the stoppage time after the 90th minute, Ignacio Piatti scored for the Impact in the 2-1 victory in front of an announced crowd of 14,509.

The tide of the game turned when the legendary Drogba finally stepped onto the field and part of the blame goes to the Fire players.

“We weren’t mature in this game,” said Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, whose team fell to 1-2-3. “He came into the game and we were impressed by him. He’s one of the best players in the world. I love him. He’s a great guy. But we have to understand that we have to respect ourselves as well as our opponents.’’

The Fire seems to have a Drogba-like game-changer in David Accam but he missed his fourth straight game due to an injured left knee. The Fire have a week off and Accam said he hoped to be back for the April 30 home game against D.C. United. He added that he hoped to start practice this week.

Paunovic said in March he hoped that Accam (who led the team with 10 goals last year and had two goals and an assist in the Fire’s first two games this year) would be back April 2. But Accam, who hurt the knee against Orlando City March 11 said he was told he could be out six weeks.

“It’s coming along like we thought it would,” Accam said.

Kennedy Igboananike scored his team-leading third goal at the 29-minute mark for the Fire and having him and the speedy Accam back on field at the same time could cure some ails for a team that is struggling to not only score goals, but to even get shot attempts on target. The Fire has seven shots on goal in the past five games.

“That’s something we are working on,” Paunovic said. “It’s one of the areas we have to improve.’’

There is talk that the Fire will be getting some more offensive firepower in May, but having an Accam/Igboananike combination as soon as possible should give the offense a lift to try to match a solid defense.


'Bittersweet' record

Chicago Fire goalie Matt Lampson was bummed out about his team’s 2-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday but he did have a few good words about the defense breaking a team record.

In the 37th minute of the first half, the team broke its record of 356 straight minutes without allowing a goal (set in 2009) and boosted it up to 411 before 38-year-old Didier Drogba put one by Lampson on a play that the goalie blamed himself for.

“That is the very definition of ‘bittersweet,’ ’’ Lampson said. “Ultimately we lost the game. But the streak – that’s 100 percent credit to the guys in front of me. Our guys are always throwing their bodies in the way. That record shows the caliber of defense that we have and the character of the guys we have. It’s a nice feather in the cap, but you want three points. And we didn’t get them.’’


Former Fire midfielder Henry Shipp, who was traded to Montreal in February for cash and composed an emotional open four-page letter to Fire fans, got off two shots – one on target – in 45 touches against his former team. Shipp opened the season with two assists in two games for the Impact, which improved to 4-2-0.

Security problem

Some eyebrows were raised when a fan ran onto the Toyota Park field and interacted with some of the players and appeared to take a photo of himself with Impact star Didier Drogba. The fan ran off the field on his own and back into the stands when security finally started to chase him. The fact that the fan was not chased by security personnel while he was on the field had some observers surprised.

“It is concerning,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said but wouldn’t elaborate.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Baseball playoffs are unfair, unpredictable and exciting

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry:

I talked with a longtime reader about a variety of local sports and he said “You heard it here first – St. Laurence is going to win the state baseball championship.”

He thought the Vikings had the most talent.

But that’s not how it works with the Illinois High School Association baseball tournament.

Baseball is one of the hardest sports to figure out when it comes to a single-elimination tournament. A great team can face one red-hot pitcher on a Tuesday and get beat by an average team. Then on Thursday, the average team throws a not-so-red-hot pitcher and gets pounded.

Who would have predicted that in Class 4A Providence Catholic would be the first team to win back-to-back baseball titles since Maine Township did it in 1958-59?

Who would have predicted that they would win even one title in the past two years?

In 2014, the Celtics came feebly limping into the state tournament losing three in a row by a combined 22-4 score.  They won six games in the postseason and faced St. Rita, which whipped the Celtics 8-1, 14-1 and 10-4 during the regular season, in the state title game. The Celtics ended up winning 4-1.

Last year, the Celtics lost five games in a row in May by a combined score of 21-5 and found themselves back in the title game thanks to come classic come-from-behind postseason wins. They faced Mt. Carmel, which beat the Celtics 2-1 and 3-1 during the regular season and owned a 4-1 lead heading into the fifth inning of the title game. But the Celtics rallied again and won 6-5 in an eight-inning thriller.  

There were a lot of teams better than the Celtics those two years and yet they brought two trophies back to New Lenox.

The kicker is that the Celtics had much more talented teams in previous years that didn’t win titles. That’s the nature of this unfair but unpredictable and thrilling tournament.

The solution is a double-elimination tournament but that is not going to happen because it’s a logistical nightmare even without the threat of rain to botch things up. So we are stuck with what we have.

Have fun with it.

A good argument

When the Golden State Warriors passed the Bulls for the NBA’s best regular season record with a 73-9 record, there were plenty of people who thought they should have rested their stars the final game to concentrate on being fresh for the playoffs. The logic is that winning 73 games without winning the NBA title means nothing.

Actually, it would mean something. It’s rarer to win 73 games than it is to win an NBA title. It’s just not as important.

The ultimate prize is the championship – I get that. But that’s not guaranteed – especially with the San Antonio Spurs lurking in a few weeks. But a chance at rare history was just a game away so they were right to try to go for it. Sitting the stars and losing that last game and NOT winning the NBA title would be a double whammy that would truly mean nothing.

A lousy argument

The argument on who would win a seven-game series between the Bulls in their prime and the Warriors is one I hate hearing.

I covered the Bulls when they won their last three titles and loved watching their mastery. But that was 20 years ago and players now are bigger, stronger and faster now than they were 20 years ago just like the Bulls were bigger, stronger and faster than the teams that played in the 1970s.

The Bulls in their prime are never going to play the current Warriors so why waste energy fighting about it?

We have more important things to argue about – like who is going to win the Class 4A baseball title in June.