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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.

NOTES

'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.’’

Shipp-shape

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

Columnsig924

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.

A look back at Fire/NYC and ahead to Fire/Montreal

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

 

PAGE 2 FIRE GRIMACE

Photo of FS1 telecast

Rodrigo Ramos is attended to by medical personnel after crashing with New York City’s Ronald Matarrita in the 56th minute of Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Yankee Stadium.

 

 

 

After Sunday night’s 0-0 draw with the New York City Football Club at Yankee Stadium the glass is either half full or half empty for the Chicago Fire.

On one hand, the Fire continued its winless streak on the road to 27 games and hasn’t grabbed three points away from Toyota Park since beating New England July 12, 2014.

On the other hand, the defense and goalie Matt Lampson are closing in on team history as they have shut out opponents for 356 minutes – 36 minutes short of the Fire’s all-time mark, which it set in 2009.

Lampson, who replaced the longest tenured Fire player, Sean Johnson, was pretty busy making a career-high eight saves and recording his third straight shutout. In his Fire debut on March 6, NYC scored four goals against him including three in the first half in a game in Bridgeview.

Since that game, he has allowed just one goal in four matches and is one of the elite goalies in Major League Soccer as he is tied for first in the league in shutouts (three) and third in the league in saves (26).

"I think Matt did a great job, he had fantastic saves,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We have to recognize all the teamwork that happens before that in order for him to make the saves. He did a great job when he had to stop something and the team did a great job by exhausting the opponent ahead of time.’’

The Fire played its third straight game without star midfielder David Accam who has a left knee injury. It appeared the Fire could survive another week with Accam on the shelf when the team danced and celebrated in the 60th minute after rookie Jonathan Campbell’s header went past NYC goalie Josh Saunders. But it was waved off when Johan Kappelhof was ruled offside while Gilberto’s header was heading toward Campbell.

Arguing ensued by the Fire players but the goal stayed off the board and Paunovic had no comment after the game about it.

 "Our club policy is to not talk about the referee's calls," he said.

When Accam gets back, and Fire are hoping that will come this weekend, it should put a little more sizzle into the offense.

For now, the Fire is savoring the improvement from the 4-3 loss to NYC.

"Well, I think for everybody, it was a learning experience,” Lampson said. “It sucks to learn from a loss and a bad loss, but it was obviously a learning experience and everyone has jelled. And we are getting better and better with each game, particularly with possession, and I'm happy with the progress we're making.

“It was an embarrassing game the first game and we wanted payback for these guys. Unfortunately we couldn't a goal but I'm really proud of the way these guys fought today and we deserved a point." 

 

 

MONTREAL IMPACT AT CHICAGO FIRE

WHEN: 4 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

FIRE RECORD: 1-1-3

IMPACT RECORD: 3-2-0

LAST TIME: Andres’ Romero’s goal in the 76th minute gave the host Impact a 2-1 victory on Sept. 23. David Accam scored the Fire’s lone goal in a game that featured one red card and eighth yellows.

FIRE NOTES

Harry Shipp grew up a Chicago Fire fan while living in Lake Forest.

He played for the team for two seasons in 2014 and 2015.

For the first time in his career, he will be rooting against a Fire victory and will be in a position to do something about it.

The Fire traded the popular Shipp to Montreal in February and he will play his first game against his former team at 4 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Park.

Some pro athletes treat their sport as a business but Shipp had a love for playing with the team he grew up rooting for.

“When I was told out of the blue that I would no longer be a member of the Fire, I immediately broke down and started crying,” Shipp said in an open letter to Chicago shortly after the trade.  “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past two years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago.’’

As a member of the Impact, he opened the season with two assists in its first two games.

Shipp, 24, had 10 goals and 14 assists in 66 games for the  Fire during his two years with the club. He also made eight appearances for the Fire during Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play, helping the team reach the semifinals both years. Shipp initially signed with Chicago as a Homegrown Player on Jan. 9, 2014.

(subhead) The four freshmen

Rookie Alex Morrell made his professional debut when he entered Sunday’s 0-0 match in the 84th minute. Morrell is the fourth Fire rookie to appear in a MLS match this season, joining Brandon Vincent, Jonathan Campbell and Joey Calistri.

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: T-Bolts to bring geezer grapplers to town

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

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

The Windy City Thunderbolts are bringing some big-name wrestlers to perform after some of their Thursday night game.

Big names from years ago.

But that’s OK.

The kids who love Roman Reigns and AJ Styles may not appreciate the geezers coming to Crestwood but some of us experienced fans (i.e. older) might get a kick out of seeing Matt Hardy on June 2, Billy Gunn on June 23, Abyss on July 7, Scotty 2 Hotty on Aug. 4 and Chavo Guerrero on Sept. 1 courtesy of Blitz Pro Wrestling.

Out of this group, Gunn is my favorite because he made me laugh the most. He is on the other side of 50 now.  

His real name is Monty Kip Sopp and has gone under at least 16 different ring names including Cute Kip, Kip Montana and Rockabilly.

He hit his peak in the WWE as Billy Gunn. He and the Road Dogg as the New Age Outlaws, who were a part of Degeneration X. He was known as “Badass” Billy Gunn and later, Mr. Ass. The Outlaws had a suggestive and profane line that led into the rest of DX doing the famous “crotch chop” which made its way into other sports such as football, baseball and pro bowling. Late in 2015, Arizona QB Carson Palmer got in hot water for chopping Seattle fans.

Mature stuff? Naah. But funny? You bet.

So, if you kids aren’t down with having these old-timey wrestlers doing their thing in the ring after T-Bolt games, I got two words for ya…

…ask your father what they are.

 Other brothers doing well

On our front page we have a story on the McCormick brothers from Orland Park who are making names for themselves on the St. Laurence baseball team.

Another pair of brothers from Orland helped the Vikings pile up victories and are both at Division I colleges.

Kyle Wood is a senior at Purdue and through 24 games has driven in 24 runs including 14 in a five-game span against Ball State, Louisville and three games against Nebraska in late March. He has also clubbed nine homers. He turns 23 on Sunday.

His younger brother Brad was hitting .277 as a sophomore for Northern Illinois University in the Huskies first 29 games with eight RBI. He also made two appearances on the mound and threw two scoreless innings.

 By the way, someone else got injured…

 The season-ending injury to Kyle Schwarber rocked Cubs Nation and made it to the front page of the Chicago Tribune even though the guy only has 236 lifetime at-bats and is a lifetime .242 hitter.

But man, can he hit powerful home runs.

Some feel sorry for the kid, but there was also an injury announced last week that is even more of a shame.

Mikey Dudek, a receiver for the University of Illinois who set records as a freshman, will miss his second straight season with a tear to his right ACL. It was the same injury that wiped out his 2015 season. Dudek caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards his first year and looked like he was on his way to a promising college career. The receiver from Neuqua Valley’s career is on hold again.

For the Cubs and Schwarber, I think the team is deep enough to whether this injury and Schwarber will still be paid while he is rehabbing.

But a college kid with two ACL surgeries…that’s going to be tough to recover from.

It just goes to show that around the University of Illinois athletic program, lately no news has been good news.

Can Donald trump this?

The last-place guy in the Unholy Trinity known as the last three Republican presidential candidates is Ohio Governor John Kasich.

He proved last week to be a true man of the people when he said he would be in favor of making the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday.

“There is no productivity whatsoever,” Kasich told the Dan Patrick Show. “I’m going to take that under consideration. Maybe I can get that done in the first 100 days.”

I watched the video a couple of times and can’t tell if he was yanking Patrick’s chain or was serious.

In this campaign, who knows what’s serious anymore?

Chicago Fire/Philly review and a look ahead to NYC FC

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 FiRE 9 Philly 12 snow

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire’s Gilberto, right, tries to get around Philadelphia’s Keegan Rosenberry during one of several snowy moments in Saturday’s 1-0 Fire victory.

 

To be sure, Philadelphia’s Warren Creavalle getting thrown out of the game in the second minute of the second half and the Chicago’s Fire Kennedy Igboananike’s goal four minutes later were the keys to the Fire’s 1-0 victory over the Union.

But another factor that the Fire had to face was the sometimes snowy, sometimes sunny and always windy conditions at Toyota Park in Bridgeview on Saturday afternoon. The weather was worse in the first half and the Fire had to also survive a blizzard of shots (12, including a pair of C.J. Sapong attempts that hit the crossbar and post) and still came away with a 0-0 draw.

That was the third element of the game that brought a pro soccer victory to the south suburbs. If the Fire defense didn’t keep the Union off the board, it would have likely been another afternoon without collecting three points.

Goalie Matt Lampson, who racked up his second straight shutout, said it wasn’t easy for him or the defense as the Fire improved to 1-1-2 and earned its first win in the Veljko Paunovic era in front of an announced crowd of 12,073.

“It was probably the harshest conditions I’ve ever played in,” Lampson said. “It was very difficult for both teams so it’s a testament to our guys came out with three points in conditions like that. I’m incredibly proud of our team. Every single guy played his heart out. I think we deserved three points today.

“That first half, honestly, was absolutely brutal. We needed to get out of that half without conceding and that’s exactly what we did. In soccer, luck always has something to do with it. Whether it hits the post or not doesn’t matter. We came out with the result that we wanted. We were resilient. We suffered through and got out of it the way we wanted to.’’

Philadelphia game into the game with a 2-1-0 mark and tied for first with Montreal in the Eastern Division of Major League Soccer.

“This win means a lot for me and everyone in the lockerroom,” Paunovic said. “We will have more confidence now and that’s very, very important. We beat a very good team. This win helps us to grow.’’

The team played its second straight game without leading scorer David Accam and after managing just three shots in the first half, the Fire took advantage of the 11-on-10 situation that Creavalle’s red card provided and had seven second-half shots including Igboananike’s second goal of the season (Michael Harrington assisted) to tie Accam for the team lead.

“To play in this weather was difficult – you never knew what you were going to get,” Igboananike said. “You have to be mentally strong to play through that and we did that and picked up a win.’’

CHICAGO FIRE AT NEW YORK CITY FC

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Yankee Stadium, New York

FIRE RECORD: 1-1-2

NYC RECORD: 1-1-2

LAST TIME: NYC opened the 2016 season with a 4-3 victory over the Fire on March 6 at Toyota Park. Both teams combined for 37 shots. Mix Diskerud scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the second half for NYC.

 

Fire looks to regain its honor

 

The Chicago Fire won its first game since Oct. 5 when it beat Philadelphia, 1-0, on Monday – a streak of five games.

The next challenge is to win on the road.

The Fire visits the New York City Football Club Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Chicago has not won a road game since topping New England, 1-0, on July 12, 2014 -- a streak of 26 games.

The Fire has gone 0-18-8 in that span.

The Fire has one more reason to want to win. Its 4-3 loss to NYC to open the season at Toyota Park is still stinging.

“We had our honor hurt,” first-year coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We feel like we have some payback. There is something special about this game.’’

The coach said earlier this week midfielder David Accam is in the “final phase of recovery” from an injured left knee but is not sure if he will be able to play against New York. Accam missed the past two games.

 

Coming soon?

Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez said two new international players will be heading to the team in May during the team’s Saturday morning Chicago Fire Weekly radio show. He wouldn’t give out names but said one player is a midfielder.

"We won’t make that announcement for another week-to-10 days and that’s at the request of the team from whom the player is coming, which is involved in some important matches. It’s a central midfielder who we believe will complement our existing group and give us a little bit more size in there,” Rodriguez said.

The Fire Confidential website speculates the players will be Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thian (who plays for MTK Budapest) and Dutch striker Michael De Leeuw (who is playing for FC Groningen).

Showing some style

The Fire Soccer Club hosts the fourth annual Soccer & Style fashion show atROOF on theWit (201 North State Street, 27th Floor,) from 6 to 8 p.m. May 5.

Fire players will walk the runway in this season's hottest looks provided by Banana Republic. Tickets start at $50 and includes entry into the event and two drink tickets. VIP ticketsare$75 and include event entry, three drink tickets and a commemorative gift.

All proceeds from the event benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation. In 2015, the fashion show raised over $11,000.
 

The models scheduled to appear are Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic, goalkeeper Patrick McLain, defenders Jonathan Campbell, Eric Gehrig, Michael Harrington, Joao Meira and Brandon Vincent, and midfielders David Accam, Arturo Alvarez, Joey Calistri, Razvan Cocis, John Goossens, Matt Polster and Michael Stephens.

For tickets, visit Eventbrite.com