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Chicago Fire notes heading into D.C. game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

D.C. UNITED AT CHICAGO FIRE

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

FIRE RECORD: 1-2-3

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

 

PAGE 2 DEFENSE

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.

 

 

 

ORLANDO PRIDE AT CHICAGO RED STARS

WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday.

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

RED STARS RECORD: 1-1-0

ORLANDO RECORD: 1-1-0

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

NOTES:

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.

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.