Vancouver Whitecaps FC
And here the Fire go into the second half of the season, now suddenly in a losing streak, with as many questions swirling around everybody as there were in March. Last week I wrote about how the Fire have an opportunity to define their season, but it’s games like Sunday’s in Vancouver that show how this Fire team this year, for good or for bad, just refuses to be defined.
There are a million ways to look at games like Sunday’s. I mean, the Fire lost. They didn’t score when they had the chances, they gave up three goals, and they didn’t get any points. Those are the facts that count, sure, but games are never completely comprehensible in a quantitative way, and, especially as we all try to figure out the true identity of this team, the mysteries are confounding.
Was Sunday’s game as bad as the score line looked? Or did the Fire not get all they deserved? Was the lineup wrong? Or was the lineup fine but certain plays didn’t go the Fire’s way, that’s life, etc.? Let’s look a bit closer…
View 1: The Fire died in the second half, gave up three goals in 20 minutes, and couldn’t muster a comeback.
View 2: The Fire stood up against a plastic pitch and hostile atmosphere, dominated the first half and were unlucky not to score, then broke down against Vancouver’s momentum after Camillo’s first goal (which was brilliant and would’ve come off against anyone.)
View 1: The Fire’s defense is too exposed and the additions of Soumare and Francis, as well as moving Anibaba out wide, couldn’t keep Vancouver at bay.
View 2: The Fire’s defense has cut down the blatant mistakes we saw earlier this season, Segares was suspended, first choice goalie Sean Johnson is with the USMNT, defenses take time to gel, it’s hardly the end of the world, none of Vancouver’s goals were due to terrible defending or mistakes.
View 1: Sunday’s result makes sense because the Fire haven’t been strong away from Toyota Park.
View 2: One of the Fire’s best results this year was a scrappy away draw at RSL in May.
View 1: Klopas’ second half subs aren’t making a difference the way they used to.
View 2: The gist of the substitutions - refreshing center midfielders and providing more options up front (see Lindpere, Quincy, and Maicon) - are exactly the same as they were when they changed games in the unbeaten run. Also, without Paladini and Pause in Vancouver, he had fewer options.
View 1: Magee’s hot run is over.
View 2: Magee created multiple chances in the first half, just missed the back post twice in the second, had a shot blocked later, and was generally all over the place and annoying for Vancouver.
And so on...
So - was the Fire’s unbeaten run a fluke? Were the losses against KC and Vancouver proof that the Fire can’t convert against the best in MLS? Did the additions of Magee and Soumare, the resurgence of Duka-Rolfe-Nyarko trio, and the presence of Larentowicz all flame out?
OR: Did tough-fought results against Portland and RSL prove that the Fire can fight against anyone in the league? Maybe back-to-back losses against KC (the best team in the East) and at Vancouver (one of the hardest places to play in MLS) aren’t totally surprising, even for top teams? Maybe the Fire lost to a brilliant goal and a tough atmosphere/pitch, were unlucky not to score a handful themselves, and should just wash themselves of this game and move on?
In other words, there are no answers. I don’t think the Fire were dominated in Vancouver. But they lost. If the Fire had converted one of their first half chances, maybe Vancouver loses some confidence, and the Fire come away with some points. If not for Camillo’s second goal, the ball didn’t manage to squeeze past three Fire players, and the Fire equalize, who knows?
The “if” game is tough. One could say that the best way to address is that is to decisively remove all “if”s, convert the chances, not give up goals and be champions -- end of story. Fair, but maybe the best approach this year is to embrace what this team is. Maybe this year’s Fire is defined by a transient identity, a team finding itself through wins, losses, and draws. Maybe that’s what’s best about them?
Select shots from the Fire's 3-1 loss to Vancouver.
CREDIT: USA Today Sports Images
The 2013 MLS campaign kicks off today and the All-In Podcast crew has made their picks for the weekend matches... We'll tally these throughout the season and be sure to point out who does the worst every week on the Podcast...
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC
(3/2 4pm CT; MLS Live)
Vancouver vs. Toronto FC
(3/2 5:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Houston vs. D.C. United
(3/2 7:00pm CT; NBCSN)
FC Dallas vs. Colorado
(3/2 7:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Seattle vs. Montreal
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
Chivas USA vs. Columbus
(3/2 9:30pm CT; MLS Live)
LA Galaxy vs. Chicago
(3/3 4pm CT; UniMas)
Portland vs. New York
(3/3 6:30pm CT; ESPN2)
San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake
(3/3 9:00pm CT; MLS Live)
Even if its a preseason tournament, its nice to see the Fire atop these standings:
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||2||1||1||0||3||4||4||0|
But as I spoke to Chicago-Fire.com contributor Irish Steve Thursday about the scenarios for the team to clinch the Carolina Challenge Cup Saturday, one potential scenario had my head spinning.
To be clear, with two wins in their pocket, a draw or win in Saturday's first game vs. Vancouver (live at 4:00pm on Chicago-Fire.com) would give the Fire their first Challenge Cup title.
But should the team lose, say 1-0 to Vancouver and Houston beat Charleston by the same score in the tournament finale, the Fire, Dynamo and Whitecaps would then be tied not only on points, goal difference (first tie breaker), goals scored (second tie breaker) and goals against (third tie breaker).
Under that scenario, the table would look like this:
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||3||2||1||0||6||5||4||+1|
Head-to-head would be next best solution, right?
Well consider in that circumstance the Fire beat the Dynamo (3-2 win), the Dynamo beat Whitecaps FC (2-1 win) and potentially Whitecaps FC would have beaten the Fire (1-0 win), i.e., they would all share three points in the mini-group between the three MLS teams.
With the results of each matchday pairing with each other, the goal difference in the mini-group would be even but then, the next most logical tie-breaker (what I would call the seventh tie breaker) would be goals scored in the mini-group, which would potentially give Houston the title.
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||2||1||1||0||3||2||2||0|
However, after speaking to Battery President Andrew Bell post-game Wednesday, it seems the tie-breaking procedures beyond goals against are pretty fuzzy...
Good reason for the Fire to take care of business against Vancouver Saturday afternoon, though I hear Frank Klopas is pretty lucky in coin flips!
Carolina Challenge Cup Results/Fixtures
|2/16/2013||Chicago Fire||3:2||Houston Dynamo|
|2/16/2013||Vancouver Whitecaps FC||3:2||Charleston Battery|
|2/20/2013||Houston Dynamo||2:1||Vancouver Whitecaps FC|
|2/20/2013||Chicago Fire||2:1||Charleston Battery|
|2/23/2013||Chicago Fire||vs.||Vancouver Whitecaps FC|
|2/23/2013||Houston Dynamo||vs.||Charleston Battery|
As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.
As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...
First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...
A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.
Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.
To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.
On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.
Major League Soccer today released the final list of players eligible for Stage Two of the MLS Re-Entry process to take place via teleconference Friday afternoon at 2pm CT.
Midfielder Corben Bone, defender Dan Gargan and goalkeeper Jay Nolly remained on the list from the Fire after passing through the Stage One draft last Friday. Of course the Fire were the only team to select a player in that draft, picking Brazilian forward Maicon Santos.
The Stage Two draft typically has more activity as teams who select players on Friday can negotiate their salaries. In Stage Two, teams cannot select their own players until after all 18 other teams have passed on them.
Players that pass through Friday's draft without getting picked are free to sign with any MLS team on a first-come, first-served basis. If you're at all still confused, I explained the entire Re-Entry Process in this blog last Friday.
The list of the 49 eligible players for Re-Entry is below. Salary numbers are from the most recent report by the MLS Players Union.
This is probably a weaker Re-Entry Field than we've seen in the two previous versions. Given the three players the Fire have exposed to the draft and considering the moves made so far this offseason (re-signing Arne Friedrich and Gonzalo Segares; acquiring Maicon Santos), who, if anyone would you want to see the Fire take in Stage Two tomorrow?
Tell us in the comments below...
|Team||Player||Position||2012 Base Salary|
|CHV||Juan Pablo Angel||F||$350,000|
|DAL||Julian De Guzman||M||$1,863,996|
|RSL||Paulo Araujo, Jr.||F||$65,000|
The MLS Regular Season Schedule may not yet be out, but the Fire already have three opponents scheduled for next eyar after the Charleston Battery released the match schedule for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup.
Participating for the third straight season in one of North America's top preseason tournaments, the Fire will open up the tournament with an MLS Cup playoff re-match with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, February 16 at 5:00pm ET (4:00pm CT).
See below the full tournament schedule:
Saturday, February 16
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Wednesday, February 20
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Chicago Fire, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Saturday, Feb 23
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
If you've never been to the Charleston Battery's home at Blackbaud Stadium, I highly recommend heading south to catch a Fire match and take in the amazing Three Lions Pub. Tickets for the tournament go on sale next Monday, December 3 at 9am CT via www.charlestonbattery.com or by calling (843) 971-GOAL (4625)