Chicago Fire: Daniel Paladini

Fire notch first win of season

April, 7, 2013

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Maicon Santos scored twice and Daniel Paladini had a goal and two assists to lead the Chicago Fire to a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.

Santos scored his first goal in the 83rd minute to break a 1-1 tie, rolling a 15-yard right-footed shot from the left side after taking a feed from Paladini and running for about 40 yards. He faked defender Jamison Olave to the turf and booted the ball past Luis Robles.

It was the first win of the season for Chicago (1-3-1), which had been held to one goal in its first four matches, totaling 360 minutes plus stoppage time.

Olave gave New York a 1-0 lead in the 17th with a left-footed volley to hammer home a header by Tim Cahill.

The Fire tied it on a header by Paladini and Santos' second goal came in the 89th minute.

Fire opens preseason with victory

January, 27, 2013
The Chicago Fire kicked off its preseason schedule with a 2-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast University at Ave Maria’s North Park on Sunday.

Dominic Oduro and Daniel Paladini scored the two Fire goals.

The Fire played 28 of 32 players on its preseason roster as head coach Frank Klopas looked to evaluate talent.

The Fire’s next preseason match comes against fellow MLS side Columbus Crew at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

Fire score in opening minute of win

September, 2, 2012

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Patrick Nyarko scored in the opening minute and Daniel Paladini had a goal in the 19th to lead the Chicago Fire to a 3-1 victory against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night.

Alex scored in second-half stoppage time to seal the win as the Fire (13-8-5) moved two points ahead of the Dynamo for third place in the Eastern Conference.

Brian Ching scored in the 90th minute for Houston (11-7-9), using his left knee to deflect Brad Davis' corner kick into the net. The late goal spoiled Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson's bid for a fifth shutout of the season. Johnson finished with five saves, including a difficult stop on Je-Vaughn Watson a minute earlier.

Nyarko picked off a pass intended for Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor, ran 40 yards, and beat goalkeeper Tally Hall 50 seconds into the match. It was the second-fastest score of the year for Chicago. Dominic Oruro scored 25 seconds in against Toronto on April 21.

Houston forward Macoumba Kandji nearly scored on a Chicago defensive miscue in the 13th minute, but caromed the ball into the net with his right shoulder and was called for a hand-ball violation.

Paladini made it 2-0 when his right ankle deflected Sherjill MacDonald's pass behind Hall from seven yards out six minutes later.

Alex got his first goal for the Fire on a 20-yard lob shot off the right post into the net about 3 minutes into stoppage time.

Fire tops Chivas in preseason match

February, 11, 2012
Daniel Paladini scored in the 49th minute to give the Chicago Fire a 1-0 preseason victory over Chivas USA on Saturday afternoon at the Oxnard College Soccer Complex in Oxnard, Calif.

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson got his first preseason action, playing the first 45 minutes as coach Frank Klopas played a different group in each half. Johnson rejoined the team this week after participating in a month-long U.S. Men’s National Team training camp.

The Fire return to preseason action on Wednesday against the Portland Timbers.

Gargan, Chaves among Fire's unprotected

November, 21, 2011
The Chicago Fire and other Major League Soccer teams submitted their 11-player protected lists Monday in preparation for Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft for the Montreal Impact.

Among some of the Fire's noteworthy players left unprotected are forward Diego Chaves, midfielder Daniel Paladini, and defenders Dan Gargan, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta.

Fire's 11-player protected list: Sean Johnson (GK), Cory Gibbs (D), Jalil Anibaba (D), Gonzalo Segares (D), Pavel Pardo (M), Logan Pause (M), Marco Pappa (M), Sebastian Grazzini (M), Orr Barouch (F), Patrick Nyarko (F/M), Dominic Oduro (F)

Unprotected list (available for Impact selection): Jon Conway (GK), Alec Dufty (GK), Yamith Cuesta (D), Dan Gargan (D), Steven Kinney (D), Josip Mikulic (D), Pari Pantazopoulos (D), Mike Banner (M), Michael Videira (M), Daniel Paladini M), Baggio Husidic (M), Cristian Nazarit (F), Gabriel Ferrari (F), Diego Chaves (F)

Exempt from selection (Generation adidas or homegrown status): Corben Bone (M), Kellen Gulley (F), Victor Pineda (M)

Impact head coach and former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch certainly will have his share of player options to choose from.

Chaves came to the Fire with high expectations, but it is not too surprising that he was left unprotected heading into the expansion draft. Chaves had a good start and decent finish to the 2011 season with six goals. But Chaves went through a long goal-less stretch and saw his playing time dwindle.

Gargan was a key midseason acquisition for the Fire during the 2011 campaign, adding stability to a back line that was short on outside back options. His name typically was third on the midseason hierarchy mention, with midfielders Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo grabbing most of the attention. But Gargan filled the right back role quite well. His absence from the Fire's 11-man list probably stands out the most, so it would not be out of the question to see the 28-year-old Gargan bound for Montreal. Gargan has become a bit of an MLS journeyman since the Colorado Rapids drafted him in 2005.

There are a number of ways that Montreal could look upon the Fire's roster, and it appears that Chicago is most willing to part with someone on the defensive end. Along with Gargan, center backs Mikulic and Cuesta both posted plenty of starting minutes for the Fire this past season. The 22-year-old Cuesta had 18 starts and 1,681 minutes, and the 25-year-old Mikulic had 12 starts and 1,038 minutes.

Last year the Fire lost a pair of midfielders in John Thorrington (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Peter Lowry (Portland Timbers), and Montreal could go in that direction this year. Paladini is a viable option, having earned 16 starts this year for Chicago. University of Illinois-Chicago product and 2009 draft pick Baggio Husidic also was left unprotected. The third-year midfielder is coming off a season that included zero goals and two assists, but Montreal might see some potential if Husidic returned to the five-goal, three-assist performance that he logged in 2010.

Fire blank Rapids for second straight win

August, 27, 2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Don't look now, but the Chicago Fire have put together a stretch of victories.

Dominic Oduro and Cory Gibbs each netted a goal and Chicago topped the Colorado Rapids, 2-0, on Saturday in front of 15,211 at Toyota Park.

It marked the first set of back-to-back wins for the Fire (4-7-15, 27 points) since the 2010 season, when they topped D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo on April 17 and 24, respectively.

While the Fire are building some needed momentum, the team knows it has to make up for some lost ground in getting back into the playoff picture.

Gozalo Segares
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe Fire's Gonzalo Segares fights for the ball with the Rapids' Wells Thompson on Saturday.

"It's one game," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "The guys are not satisfied. We're not satisfied. This is behind us. We have to look at this match and look at the good things and what we have to improve."

Oduro tallied his team-leading ninth goal in the 17th minute for a 1-0 advantage. Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo played the ball up and Oduro ran past Colorado's Tyrone Marshall and placed a low shot to the left side of the goal past Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens.

Gibbs garnered his second goal of the season in the 36th minute, heading the ball in off of a Sebastian Grazzini cross to take a 2-0 lead. Pardo also assisted with a perfectly placed ball over a pair of Rapids defenders to Grazzini. Grazzini saved the ball just before it went out of bounds and crossed from the left side to Gibbs.

"I was a bit disappointed in myself last week and that (30th-minute) miss against Toronto," Gibbs said. "It dwelled on me all week, and I said that if I have that chance again, I'll do my best to put it away. Grazzini played a great ball in."

Chicago was in complete control over Colorado (10-7-11, 41 points) during the first half, and the defense held tight the rest of the way.

Daniel Paladini came up with a huge block in the 84th minute to keep the shutout intact. Sanna Nyassi had a sure goal, but Paladini cleared the shot off the line.

"When Orr (Barouch) came in, we switched roles -- I was supposed to be on the six-yard box," Paladini said of that sequence. "We switched to where I would be on the post. I just held on the line until the ball was cleared and kept that lead."

Paladini was brought in to open the second half after Pardo left with a calf strain. Pardo's status is uncertain for Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers at Toyota Park.

"With the calf, we'll have to see (Sunday)," Klopas said. "I know he came in at halftime and it was bothering him. With the game Tuesday, we didn't want to really push it. We'll evaluate and see how he feels."

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made four saves for the clean sheet, and Pickens made five saves for Colorado. The Rapids had a whopping 10-1 advantage on corner kicks, but Chicago's defense kept Colorado off the board.

Chicago built off its 2-0 win over Toronto FC the previous week and there is a bit of a step within this club after doubling its victory total in the span of two matches.

"That win last week definitely pushed the players' confidence levels -- Oduro, Grazzini, everybody -- and they worked hard in training on certain things and it paid off," Gibbs said.

Analysis: The Fire ended Colorado's six-game unbeaten run (4-0-2), so clearly Chicago has found some momentum as it heads into a bit of a break from MLS play.

All of the damage was done in the first half on Saturday, and it goes without saying that the positive early starts will continue to cash in some victories. Though the amount of corners allowed was a negative trend, the Fire defense held its ground from start to finish. Even with an obstacle of playing without Pardo for a half, Paladini stepped in with a huge block in the final 10 minutes.

That the Fire did not post a shot on goal in the second half and botched several other scoring chances were complete afterthoughts because Chicago had its lead and maintained it.

A strong start and a complete defensive effort -- it sounds so simple, but with the Fire, they have endured so many matches where a lapse cost them a win.

Saturday was another step in the right direction for the Fire, but there still is a long way to go.

Fire set for struggling Chivas

July, 1, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire open a west coast swing when they battle Chivas USA this Saturday at The Home Depot Center.

The Fire and Chivas have their share of differences, but the big similarity is that each side has 17 points and is toward the bottom of their respective conferences. Chicago is tied for seventh in the East and Chivas is eighth in the West.

Chivas (4-7-5) has lost three straight, but in two of those matches the Goats could not hang on to one-goal leads. Whether Chivas is completely at fault with defensive lapses, or its opponents are simply out-performing the Goats in these moments, this is something Chicago (2-4-11) is hoping to take advantage of.

"It's a combination of both," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said of Chivas' recent blunders. "They make mistakes, but they've gotten better with that. If anything, they've got new players, and it takes a while for them to jell together. It's just a matter of a mistake where we've got to be in a position where we make them pay."

While Chivas has not established consistency this year, the Goats certainly have shown that they can score some goals and possess the ball. Chivas first-year head coach Robin Fraser's side has five multi-goal games this year, whereas the Fire have not posted a multi-goal game since a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on May 28.

"They're a well-organized, well-coached team, and they rely more on their buildup," Klopas said. "They have some dynamic players in the final third. They're more of a possession-oriented team, and they build play through their possession. They have a big field and work well without the ball. We need to be in a position where we help out, but also commit forward and make sure we have numerical superiority."

Chivas is in the midst of its worst performance stretch this year, allowing seven goals during its three-game losing streak. The Fire's offense, however, is tied for the third-worst output of goals with 18. The Fire have scored only three goals in their past six games during Klopas' tenure. The likes of Marco Pappa, Dominic Oduro and Diego Chaves will need to pick up their game in the scoring department.

"It's not just one player -- we have guys who can play their roles," Klopas said. "The guys are confident that they will get their opportunities."

The Fire defense has been integral toward the team's 1-0-5 record under Klopas. Defensive midfielder and captain Logan Pause returns from his concussion injury, and the timing could not be better as midfielder Daniel Paladini has to miss Saturday's match because of yellow card accumulation.

Fire vying for second-half turnaround

June, 30, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire are only three draws away from matching FC Dallas' MLS record of 14 last season, and only half of the 2011 campaign is in the books.

Considering the parity of MLS and the league-wide pattern of regular stalemates across the board, the Fire likely will establish a new ties mark when all is said and done. But clearly this team wants -- and needs -- to start penciling extra points in the win column.

The Fire open the second half of their season when they travel west to take on Chivas USA. But there is this gray area lingering within the club. Is Chicago on the cusp of turning those draws into occasional wins, or will this be an ongoing issue that will place them out of the running for a postseason?

"The decisions have to be better when we do create," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We've got to be better in those moments. In the last game against New York, we had our chances, whether they were 3v2s, 6v5s -- we have to finish our plays better. The attitude has been good. We're working on our patterns. It's just the finishing in the final third."

It will be interesting to see how the Fire approach further personnel additions, especially in the central midfield. Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini has been linked to the Fire, with Klopas confirming in mid-June that the team has been looking at him.

Pending any additions, the Fire in the immediate future need to work with what they already have in place. And as the Fire (2-4-11) enter the weekend, they have a fairly steep hill to climb as they currently are tied with Sporting Kansas City for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

In league play, the Fire had a quiet June on the scoreboard, outscoring their opponents by a 3-2 margin in six games, posting a 1-0-5 record. Diego Chaves netted a goal in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action on Tuesday against the USL Pro's Rochester Rhinos. He has not scored an MLS goal since a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on April 23.

The Fire are healing up a bit, and every available option will be important. One focal point heading into this Saturday's game is the absence of midfielder Daniel Paladini, whose accumulation of yellow cards will force him to miss the Chivas match. But defensive midfielder Logan Pause (concussion) comes back just in time. Pause trained Thursday and is traveling with the Fire to California.

Also improving on the health front are midfielder Mike Banner (Achilles tendinitis) and defender Steven Kinney (Achilles tendinitis). Both were training with the full team on Thursday. However, Klopas did not have a definitive answer as to when either player is returning.

"It was good," Klopas said. "They were involved in the technical aspect of training, so they are starting to get some touches with the ball and go through exercises. It was great to see them out there. But it's going to be a while. They need some time and training to make up for the time they've missed. They're one step closer, so that's a positive sign."

Pappa, Fire come back to draw Red Bulls

June, 26, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire have had moments this year where the bounces have not gone their way. But on Sunday, a beneficial bounce on a Marco Pappa goal paved the way for a 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in front of 16,961 at Toyota Park.

Pappa's team-leading fifth goal in the 58th minute helped Chicago overcome a halftime deficit. Pappa wound up with the ball about 30 yards away from the goal and he decided to take a deep strike toward the left side of the net. Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul dove to his right, but the ball actually bounced over Coundoul and into the back of the net to tie the match at 1-1.

"Sometimes he tries things and they don't come through, but there are times where he can make some magic," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said of Pappa. "You know what you're going to get from him. He's always going to be in situations where he can create and he can score. He always finds himself around the goal. It's amazing that he's got that ability. Some players have it, some don't."

Fire-Red Bulls
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe Fire's Corben Bone fights for the ball with the Red Bulls' Thierry Henry at Toyota Park on Sunday.

The Fire posted their league-leading 11th draw of the season, moving to 2-4-11 on the year and still waiting for a moment where they can start posting some victories.

"We felt that against Columbus, we would finally be over that hump," said defender Gonzalo Segares, who was referencing the Fire's 1-0 road victory over the Crew on June 12. "But we're still not over it. We're still looking to get on a good run."

The Red Bulls had the momentum in the first half on Sunday, tallying the game's first goal in the 40th minute. New York midfielder Joel Lindpere gave the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead with a goal inside the far left post. Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry set up Lindpere, who took an initial attempt against Fire defender Yamith Cuesta. But Cuesta could not clear the ball out of harm's way, and Lindpere earned a second crack at the goal. He shot toward the far left and put the ball out of reach of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Johnson made all three of his saves in the first half and kept the Red Bulls off the board for most of the first 45 minutes. In the 21st minute, Johnson deflected a Dane Richards shot over the crossbar, shortly after Dwayne De Rosario set Richards up with a crafty move to avoid Fire defender Cory Gibbs. Then in the 26th, Johnson dove to his right to save an attempt from Lindpere, who had space in the middle of the pitch to take the shot.

The Fire put only one shot on goal in the first half -- a weak, rolling effort from Pappa in the 11th minute. Chicago's best scoring opportunity in the first half came from rookie forward Orr Barouch in the 32nd minute, when his header bounced wide left of the goal. Barouch crouched over in frustration.

Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini, who picked up a yellow card after he tripped the Red Bulls' Henry in the 37th minute, will have to miss Chicago's next league match at Chivas USA.

"[Referee Kevin Stott] said that it was because Henry got fouled four times before that, and so I was just the guy that fouled him the [next] time," Paladini said. "Now I don't get to go home. My family's from L.A., so that was more of a hurt, because they were expecting me to come home. But it happens. I've just got to wait until the next game the following weekend at the Galaxy."

Analysis: It was a tale of two halves for the Fire on Sunday, and the bottom line is that they need to replicate their second-half efforts for a full 90-plus minutes.

On paper, the Fire had a 14-8 shots advantage and a 5-4 shots on goal advantage over the Red Bulls. But Chicago could not capitalize on its extra chances.

It is understandable that the Fire would have some flat moments considering the jam-packed schedule they currently are enduring. But the Red Bulls also were coming off a midweek match on Thursday.

The need to finish is a given, but the Fire also need to be more intelligent with their passing. Johnson has found his form with some key saves, but his distribution was not at a high level Sunday. Johnson had several goal kicks that immediately went to Coundoul and the Red Bulls. Patrick Nyarko was active in the midfield, but his passing touch was not there.

The Fire managed to fight back against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. But as usual, there was an empty feeling among the Fire, because they could have earned a better fate than what the final score said.

Fire's winless stretch hits record 10 games

June, 4, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire looked composed and aggressive in the first half of their first match with interim head coach Frank Klopas at the helm. But the end result was reminiscent of the past couple of months as the Fire played Seattle Sounders FC to a scoreless draw on Saturday in front of 13,839 at Toyota Park.

With the draw, the Fire set a team record with a 10-game winless streak. During the stretch, the Fire are 0-4-6, and they are now 1-4-7 overall during the season.

Yamith Cuesta
David Banks/Getty ImagesChicago's Yamith Cuesta and Seattle's Mike Fucito battle for the ball on Saturday.

"We didn't get the win, but I felt there were a lot of positives going away from this game," Klopas said.

One positive was the play of midfielder Daniel Paladini. He had a strong match and tested Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the 27th minute. Paladini's strike from about 25 yards out was destined for the upper left corner of the goal, but Keller stretched out to his right to make the save and maintain the scoreless affair for Seattle (5-4-6).

"[Fire captain] Logan [Pause] said he saw me celebrating. I kind of was," Paladini said. "But I saw [Keller's] hands go up. It was a great save."

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson recorded all three of his saves in the first half as the Chicago defense posted its second shutout of the season.

The bulk of both teams' scoring chances came in the first half. Chicago tested Keller early, as he was forced to make four of his game-high five saves in the opening 45 minutes.

The Fire's Diego Chaves had a crisp strike in the 12th minute that went directly to Keller, and in the 31st, Keller saved another Chaves attempt and was able to hang onto the rebound when the Fire's Cristian Nazarit rushed in.

Defensively, the Fire held Seattle in check. Other than the first 10 minutes of the match -- where Seattle's Lamar Neagle had strong scoring chances in the sixth and ninth minutes -- Chicago's defense limited the Sounders' offense.

"I thought we set the tone and we created the better chances than they did," said midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who entered the match in the second half. "We gave up nothing in the back. Everyone was scrambling. Everyone was covering for each other. I personally think it was our best game this season."

Both teams' offenses were limited in the final third throughout the second half. Chicago had one shot on goal and Seattle did not even record a shot on goal in the final 45 minutes.

"I think we had an opportunity to be a little more simple and connect passes," Klopas said. "I think we weren't as sharp doing that -- maybe the final pass, or the outlet pass out wide. I think we had moments in transition."

Analysis: The Fire still have plenty of kinks to work out, but there were enough positives out of this match to lean on moving forward.

The first half was a promising start as Paladini and Corben Bone actually compensated well for the absence of Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, who is away for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Paladini was aggressive and he covered a bunch of ground on both ends of the pitch. Bone had some creative moments, though he was less active in the second half and Klopas properly subbed him out.

Klopas' in-game management during his debut was valid. Bone's and Cristian Nazarit's activity lessened during the second half, and Klopas tried to maintain some attack against the Sounders' defense.

The winless cloud continues to linger, however, as Chicago did not gain any ground on Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia.

Fire win shootout, advance to Open Cup

May, 25, 2011
The Chicago Fire edged the San Jose Earthquakes, 5-4, in a shootout on Tuesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., to advance to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Chicago overcame a 2-0 deficit, then needed 120 minutes and penalty kicks during its play-in match to assure itself a spot in the Open Cup for a 14th straight season.

Daniel Paladini's strike proved to be the shootout winner for the four-time Open Cup champion Fire. Following Paladini, the Quakes' Scott Sealy hit the frame to close out the match.

"I didn't think about it," Paladini said of his winning strike. "In a sudden-death moment like that, you just have to put it in the back of the net. It was definitely exciting, and when the opposing team misses the last shot, he made himself big out there and hit the post."

It was an uplifting moment for a team that had not experienced a win since its 3-2 home opener victory over Sporting Kansas City on March 26 and a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids in an Open Cup play-in match on March 30.

"Everybody's happy," Paladini said. "We have been unfortunate with a lot of ties lately and a lot of games that haven't gone our way when we've shown we're the better team. We've given up some silly goals, and that's a lot of mental breakdowns. It definitely feels good to get the win and get over this hump. The guys are thrilled."

Marco Pappa, Cristian Nazarit, Orr Barouch and Dominic Oduro hit their strikes in the shootout. Fire captain Logan Pause missed his attempt, but San Jose's Sam Cronin immediately missed and Chicago never trailed in the shootout.

Regulation was a different story, as San Jose built a 2-0 advantage with goals from Ellis McLoughlin and Justin Morrow. But Fire second-half substitution Barouch and defender Yamith Cuesta netted goals for Chicago to even up the score at 2-2.

The Quakes got on the board first when they took advantage of a mishap from Paladini in the 14th minute, as McCloughlin tallied the first goal of the match for a 1-0 lead. Paladini was stripped outside of the box and McCloughlin capitalized.

Chicago escaped further danger about a minute later when the Fire again lost the ball outside of the box. But Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a save against San Jose's Chris Wondolowski to maintain a one-goal deficit.

San Jose padded its lead in the 43rd minute when McCloughlin took an initial shot that was saved by Johnson. But Morrow followed up and notched the goal for a 2-0 halftime lead.

The Fire, needing some type of jolt, made a couple of changes at the break, substituting Barouch and Oduro for Gaston Puerari and Jalil Anibaba. Midfielder Bratislav Ristic dropped to Anibaba's right back slot.

One of the subs got Chicago back into the match as Barouch tallied a goal in the 61st minute to cut San Jose's lead to 2-1. Gonzalo Segares assisted Barouch's shot, which went into the right side of the net past Quakes goalkeeper Andrew Weber.

The Fire maintained their momentum as Cuesta tied up the match at 2-2 in the 76th minute as his header got past Weber.

Both sides played through two scoreless 15-minute overtime sessions to force a shootout. The Fire's shootout history had not been the most successful in recent years. Chicago lost to the Charleston Battery last year in penalty kicks in the Open Cup. And the year before, the Fire fell in the SuperLiga championship match to Tigres UANL and the Eastern Conference Finals to 2009 MLS champion Real Salt Lake.

The Fire can't celebrate for long as they return to MLS action to host San Jose on Saturday at Toyota Park. Chicago (1-4-5) currently is in the midst of an eight-game winless streak in league play.

Paladini, Fire adapt to formation change

May, 3, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- When Chicago Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause injured his hamstring on Wednesday of last week, it caused head coach Carlos de los Cobos to rethink his strategy heading into their game against the defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids.

Initially, the Fire were training to play a standard 4-4-2. But when Pause was out of the picture, De los Cobos adjusted with a 4-1-4-1.

Chicago posted a 1-1 draw on the road, and the formation switch could stay in place, especially if Pause and midfielder Mike Videira (concussion) are unable to go this Saturday when Chicago hosts the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Park.

Last week's match in Commerce City, Colo., opened the door for Fire midfielders Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone, who made their first starts and appearances this season. Uruguayan forward Gaston Puerari dropped back in the midfield as well, leaving fellow countryman Diego Chaves as the team's lone attacker.

"We came out and played our system, and went attacking with four, five guys," Paladini said. "We're losing maybe a forward, but gaining an extra guy in the middle. We didn't go to Colorado to back up and play defense."

That was a big problem the previous week on April 23, when the Fire dropped back and settled for a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park.

While there are still plenty of wrinkles in the system, Chicago did demonstrate at times a more aggressive game, especially compared to the Houston match. Much of that has to do with the attacking demeanor of the Fire's midfielders against the Rapids. Paladini, who is used to being on the attacking side, played last week's match as a holding midfielder.

"I've talked to my dad and he doesn't like me there. I've played an attacking role all my life," Paladini said. "But I like it. I feel like I can control the game there and spray the ball out wide."

Paladini and Bone had not seen the pitch in regular-season play heading into the game, but Paladini said there was a comfort factor as they were thrown into the mix.

"We're similar players, but we didn't get to play too much together because we were in a different system," Paladini said. "In the reserve games, we've been playing together and connecting. So to us, it was no surprise in the game what we were going to do. Throwing Gaston in there, who has a great first-touch, we know what each other wants."

If Pause and Videira are not ready this weekend, the Fire in all likelihood would tout a similar lineup against Vancouver.

"With Logan and Mike Videira, they are more of defensive midfielders, and we were going with a different style," Paladini said. "Our outside midfielders were being the creators [beforehand]. Now with me and Corben, we grew up as attacking midfielders and have always been more on the creative side. There are just certain balls that Corben and I play than what Mike or Logan would play, and that's nothing against them. Obviously Logan's been very successful in this league."

Last week's game represented the Fire debut of the 26-year-old Paladini, who is in the midst of his second MLS stint. He spent some minimal time with Chivas USA in 2008 before he decided to join the lower-tier Carolina RailHawks in 2009 and 2010 to get some needed playing time.

"It was hard to practice and be a backup to Jesse Marsch and Paulo Nagamura -- these guys are good," Paladini said of his time with Chivas. "So I had to wait, and I didn't want to do that again. I talked to my dad and agent, and came to the conclusion that I should go to Carolina. You hear of some players who get blacklisted from MLS. I had a chance in Carolina to play 30 games [a season], but I knew I had to play really well in those 30 games. It couldn't be a two-goal, two-assist year. Thankfully my name got out there."

Fire tie Rapids, cap off winless April

April, 30, 2011
Two struggling teams in need of a victory each wound up with a draw as the Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids played to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.

Fire midfielder Marco Pappa tallied his third goal of the season, but Chicago once again could not hang onto a lead. The Rapids' Andre Akpan netted the equalizer in the 49th minute and each team wound up with a point.

The Fire (1-3-3, 6 points) capped off a winless April, going 0-3-2 while getting off to its worst start in team history. This year marks the first time that the Fire have posted only one victory through their first seven games of the season.

Chicago sported a 4-1-4-1 formation in an attempt to emphasize a strong possession game, but it was Colorado (3-3-1, 10 points) that ended up holding a roughly 2-to-1 edge in the possession department.

Marco Pappa
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesMarco Pappa's goal in the 43rd minute was the only goal for the Fire in Saturday's draw with the Rapids.

Nevertheless, the Fire got on the scoreboard first in the waning minutes of the first half. Gaston Puerari provided a precision pass toward the right corner of the pitch to Dominic Oduro, who then found Pappa in the box to garner the 1-0 lead in the 43rd.

The Rapids, in the midst of a three-game losing and scoreless streak, tied things up with Akpan's goal in the 49th minute. For the past two games, Fire defender Yamith Cuesta has replaced the injured Cory Gibbs (hamstring). Until this moment, Cuesta had provided some stout defense in the back. But he allowed too much room for Akpan to work with, and Akpan took advantage, shooting to the far left of the goal past Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway to tie things up at 1-1.

"To give up the goal after coming out flying high, this did not work out the way that we wanted it to," Oduro said. "At the end of the day, I think that our game plan worked out a little bit. But if we would have won this game, we could have taken some pressure off of ourselves."

Conway made his third straight start and he came up with six saves for the Fire. Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens had two saves for Colorado.

The Fire offense did not put too much on frame during the game, but Chicago had some spells where the team could have put a dent on the scoreboard.

Puerari's free kick strike from the left side was punched over the crossbar by Pickens in the 78th minute. Another strong chance came in the 14th minute when Gonzalo Segares missed just wide left and hit the outside netting of the goal. Puerari had the dish from the center of the pitch as Segares made a decisive run down the left side to open up some space. But Segares' strike went wide of Pickens and the goal frame.

Chicago played without defensive midfielder Logan Pause, who was out with a hamstring injury. Pappa wore the captain's arm band.

The Rapids were without striker Conor Casey and midfielder Brian Mullan, who was issued a 10-game suspension for a vicious tackle against Seattle Sounders FC's Steve Zakuani.

Analysis: Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with some new pieces in the middle of the pitch with midfielder Daniel Paladini making his MLS debut and Corben Bone also getting the start. Oduro played on the right flank instead of up top.

But when all was said and done, the Fire's central midfield did not accomplish what De los Cobos wanted in the possession game. Offensively, the Fire could have had a greater impact. Bone had some decent chances if he pulled the trigger earlier. The Fire's lone striker, Diego Chaves, resorted to a couple of long strikes that didn't pan out. Oduro had a decent first half, but his game tapered off. The Patrick Nyarko substitution for Oduro in the game's final minutes was almost pointless by that stage.

A key moment for the Fire came in the 37th minute when defender Josip Mikulic had to leave the game because of a shoulder injury he sustained in the 27th minute. Mikulic attempted to tough it out, but eventually Dasan Robinson entered the match. The absence of Mikulic was a huge loss, and the back line as a whole was shaky coming out of halftime.

So this puts Chicago in the midst of its worst start in team history -- a winless April, a five-game winless streak and only one victory through seven games. Is it still too early in the season to panic?

The Fire are fortunate to be playing in the Eastern Conference and in a league where a meager two-game winning streak can begin to turn things around. The silver lining for Chicago is that its four-game May schedule includes three franchises with losing records: the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes.

It is imperative for the Fire to make some type of move during that stretch. If the downward trend continues, who knows what types of shakeups are in store for this franchise.

Fire play Battery to scoreless draw

March, 12, 2011
For once in the Carolina Challenge Cup, the Chicago Fire did not have to deal with a man-disadvantage situation during Saturday's tournament finale. But despite numerous chances on the offensive end, Chicago came up empty as the Fire played the host Charleston Battery to a scoreless draw at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C.

Earlier in the day, D.C. United and Toronto FC played to a 2-2 draw, and United repeated as Carolina Challenge Cup champion. United posted wins over the Fire and Charleston earlier in the tournament. Charleston earned second place, the Fire third and Toronto fourth.

The Fire had been on the wrong end of the officiating during the Carolina Challenge Cup, with defensive midfielder Logan Pause red-carded in the opener against Toronto and Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves ejected in the second game against D.C.

During a crazy nine-minute stretch in the first half of the Fire's match on Saturday, three players were ejected. The Battery's Stephen Armstrong (30th minute) and Mark Wiltzee (35th minute) were shown straight red cards, and the Fire's Mike Videira received a second yellow card and ejection in the 38th minute.

But Chicago could not find the back of the net despite a 10-on-9 advantage on the pitch for much of the game. Former Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who recently joined the Charleston squad, maintained a second-half clean sheet. Charleston's Keith Wiggans manned the Battery net in the first half.

It took some time, but the Fire finally tested the Charleston defense in the second half. In the 55th minute, Patrick Nyarko nearly found the goal on the far right post, but Dykstra was there for the stop. In the 63rd minute, Gabriel Ferrari had a strong strike above the box and Dykstra pushed the ball over the crossbar.

The Fire's best challenge came on a free kick from Daniel Paladini in the 75th minute. His dangerous strike hit the near left post as he was able to drive the ball past Dykstra, but the Battery escaped to maintain the scoreless draw.

Before the cards started flying out, the Battery had the better challenges against the Fire defense. Zach Prince provided a sound cross from the right side and Armstrong's one-timed shot forced Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson to leap up for the save. The ball appeared as though it would have gone under the crossbar if not for Johnson.

At that stage of the match, Johnson had made three saves, while the Fire had not put a shot on goal. But with Charleston losing a pair of players later in the first half, the game naturally opened up for Chicago. Armstrong was shown a red for elbowing Fire forward Gaston Puerari, and Wiltzee was ejected for an unnecessary challenge against Fire open-tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with a much different starting lineup to get a look at some players on the roster bubble. Pantazopoulos and 2011 draft pick Davis Paul both started, while many regulars did not dress for the match, including forward Chaves, midfielders Marco Pappa, Bratislav Ristic and Pause, and defenders Cory Gibbs and Josip Mikulic.

Fire defender Dasan Robinson, who missed the team's Florida trip and a bulk of this preseason with a hip injury, returned to the lineup as a second-half replacement for Corben Bone.

Fire add Mikulic, officially ink Paladini

January, 11, 2011
With the MLS Combine coming to a close on Tuesday and the MLS SuperDraft on the horizon, the Chicago Fire have made a couple of offseason acquisitions away from the college scope.

On Tuesday the Fire signed defender Josip Mikulic and officially announced the signing of midfielder Daniel Paladini.

Mikulic is a 24-year-old central defender from Croatian side NK Zagreb. He played in 48 games and 3,348 minutes for the past five seasons.

"Mikulic is an athletic player with good feet, a focus on defending and strong presence in the back," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a team statement. "He comes to the Fire from a professional environment and has a number of years experience in the Croatian First Division. He is focused on defending and committed to winning."

Mikulic is the second central defender to join Chicago after the team acquired Cory Gibbs in the second stage of the re-entry draft.

Paladini, 26, comes from the USSF Division 2 Professional League's Carolina RailHawks. He was named to the league's Best XI twice.

Next on the Fire's agenda is the MLS SuperDraft, which takes place on Thursday at the Baltimore Convention Center. The draft starts at 11 a.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2. The Fire have the ninth overall selection in the first round and also have three picks in the third round (45th, 49th and 51st overall).