Photo by Jeff Vorva
The Fire and Kennedy Igboananike (left) hope to get off the ground and score a win against Philadelphia on Saturday.
PHILADELPHIA UNION AT CHICAGO FIRE
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview
FIRE RECORD: 0-1-2
UNION RECORD: 2-1-0
LAST TIME: The teams tied, 3-3, on Aug. 16 in Philadelphia. The Union’s Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 90th minute and Chicago’s Kennedy Igboananike scored seconds later for the tie.
If the soccer doesn’t bring them in, maybe the hot dogs will.
The Chicago Fire resume play Saturday against Philadelphia at 4 p.m. Toyota Park in Bridgeview and there will be $2 hot dogs on sale as a promotion. Maybe that will help bring a few more fans to the place.
The first two home games have seen vastly different results. The home opener, a wild 4-3 loss to New York City, drew 17,768 on March 6.
On a cold March 19 afternoon however, the Fire drew an announced crowd of 12,605 in a 0-0 draw against Columbus and some speculated that the actual attendance was closer to 5,000.
Regardless, the official figure of 12,605 is the lowest in Major League Soccer this year as the league is averaging 22,537 per game. The Fire is in 17th place out of 20 teams with an average of 15,186 and the list includes Toronto, which hasn’t played a home game yet.
First-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said he wasn’t disappointed in the puny crowd against Columbus.
“The people who came, supported us very well,” he said. “We also know that once this team starts to perform well and win games we will attract more people to come. We are very grateful to the people who come to the stadium and we can assure everyone we will always give our best. I’ve said this many times before, we are in a process of building a team that they will like and enjoy.’’
On paper, opening the season with five of the first seven games at home sounds good but from a fans standpoint, having those games played under frosty conditions will likely keep the numbers in the stands down.
Paunovic said he is not worried about the weather during the early part of the season because it’s something he can’t control.
Meanwhile, the Fire (0-1-2 and ranked last in the recent EPSN FC power rankings) heads into the game with some question marks.
Top player David Accam (two goals in the first two games) may miss his second game in a row with a knee injury and John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez rested their nagging injuries last week and participated in a full workout on Monday.
Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, who have been playing for the United States men’s under-23 national team, are likely to play against the Union but that could change if they are not at 100 percent.
Philadelphia is tied with Montreal for first place in the MSL East with 2-1-0 records.
The Union opened the season with a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas but came back and beat Columbus, 2-1, and New England, 3-0. MLS named the Union its Team of the Week after the New England whitewash.
Goalie Andre Blake is first in the MSL with 16 saves and seven catches. His save percentage of 83.4 ranks third in the league.
“Soccer is about the moment,” the Jamaican star told MLSsoccer.com, “And right now I’m having a great moment.”
C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius each lead the team with two goals.
Sapong’s pair came against New England on March 19 and he said after the game he wanted more.
“Feels good to open the account – I’m always extra critical, I could have had four today,” Sapong said. “It’s a good statement at home and we feel like we can do better but we showed a lot of team camaraderie on the field.”
COACH MUM ON TRADE RUMORS
Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson – the longest tenured player on the team – has not played a minute of action in the team’s first three games and with the play of Matt Lampson (two goals allowed in 225 minutes after allowing three in the first 45) it may be awhile before Johnson sees the field again.
There are rumblings the team could trade Johnson but coach Veljko Paunovic said “I don’t know anything about it.’’
When asked if Johnson is seeking a trade, Paunovic said. “I don’t know anything about that either.”
The coach said Johnson is playing the good soldier in all of this.
Johnson made his Fire debut on Aug. 1, 2010 and was the youngest player to appear in the net at age 21 and has been a mainstay with the team ever since.
“He’s handling it very well,’’ Paunovic said. “He’s a very good guy and he works hard. He’s someone who always helps teammates and we appreciate that. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.’’
The Fire picked up Lampson on Feb. 26 and he was inserted into the starting lineup for an exhibition game against defending Major League Soccer champ Portland and hasn’t come out of the lineup since.
Paunovic said he has talked with Johnson on a couple of occasions about his role.
“From my point of view, I understand and know what he’s going through,’’ Paunovic said. “I’ve been through that and I know that every player wants to play. But we really count on everyone. That’s a very important value. At some point you have faith that everyone can help the team when they are called on.’’
CONNOR, DOODY SENT TO ST. LOOIE
The Fire loaned midfielder Drew Conner and defender Patrick Doody to USL affiliate Saint Louis FC on Friday.
"Patrick and Drew need games to remain game fit and sharp," said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. "In addition, we know they will receive excellent training as well as a warm reception from the great fans of Saint Louis FC."
Conner signed a homegrown contract with the Fire on Dec. 17 after a successful collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. He earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors as a sophomore in 2013 and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2012. The Cary native had six goals and 12 assists in his collegiate career. He also helped lead his squad to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2013.
Doody, a second-year defender from Naperville, joined the Fire as a homegrown player on Dec. 22, 2014. In his rookie season, Doody started six of the seven MLS games in which he appeared, and tallied an assist on Gilberto's 78thminute goal against the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 25. Doody additionally made 21 appearances while on loan to STLFC and was tied for the team lead with four assists.
Paunovic said Monday the club is also planning on sending defender Eric Gehrig to St. Louis as well.