Major League Soccer team previews: CHICAGO FIRE

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Significant additions and subtractions: Chicago’s central midfield needed an upgrade, and by golly did the deciders around Toyota Park give it one. Joel Lindpere, under-appreciated by previous management in New York, was sent West to Chicago. He’ll partner with Jeff Larentowicz, a rugged figure with enough skill to be effective. He arrived via trade with Colorado. It’s not the best central midfield tandem in MLS, but it’s easily top half and perhaps top 6 or 7.

Pavel Pardo’s retirement sealed the deal on a need for a central midfield makeover.

Meanwhile, along the outside, Dilly Duka will now apparently be on patrol to the left.

Dominic Oduro, whose production generally failed to match the potential of all that speed, is in Columbus now. In his place (more or less) is Maicon Santos, most recently seen at D.C. United, will provide some depth but is not a first-choice striker.

Strengths: Chris Rolfe was a man on Fire (ahem … sorry) in late summer and early fall, having gotten up to speed after an injury took him away from Chicago’s spring matches. Watch him go with a full preseason.

In German veteran Arne Friedrich and 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry, the back line is in great hands. Gonzalo Segares along the left isn’t the same force moving forward along the outside that Fire fans knew in the last decade, but he certainly gets the job done defensively.

Third-year man Daniel Paladini can jump into the middle without much dropoff behind Larentowicz and Lindpere, and he’s useful as a second-half pace-changer.

Pressure points: Klopas has a big choice to make at right back, where incumbent Jalil Anibaba may have a hard time holding his starting assignment.  Pushing the young defender for that starting spot is converted midfielder Logan Pause and longtime EPL man Pascal Chimbonda.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson may be only 23 years old, but he’s is about to be a fourth year. It’s time to start erasing the occasional killer mental mistake.

If MacDonald isn’t ringing the scoring bell often enough by mid-season, Klopas and Co. in upper management will need to get busy working the transfer market. Or the trade market. Or the local Polish market. Something! Because this club has had just one 10-goal scorer since 2004. That was Oduro, who had 12 goals back in 2011, a season that looks a bit of a fluke. They have to find a goal scorer for Toyota Park. Period.

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Difference maker: No one should be concerned about Rolfe’s lack of preseason scoring. Rolfe (pictured right) always been a streaky type; once the first one goes in, the next big run will be on. Rolfe will not only get his goals (he had 8 in 22 games last year, mostly out of the attacking midfield position), he’ll also create off the counter attack. He’s good at that.

Potential breakout player: Imposing winger Duka looks like the starter on the left side, having made a departure from his unhappy place in Columbus. Duka seemed to have such potential but got sideways with management around Crew Stadium. Now in Illinois, and still just 23 years old, the former U.S. under-23 has a fresh shot at reestablishing himself as the hot new product.

Bottom line: Chicago’s roster is deeper this year, with guys like Pause, Paladini, Santos, Steve Kinney and Well Thompson (another newcomer) in reserve roles. If Rolfe and Friedrich can stay healthy, and if they find that scorer who has been so elusive around Toyota Park, they’ll be an Eastern contender.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, best Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.

VIDEO: Toivonen chips Neuer; Germany on brink of elimination

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Germany, the defending world champions, have their backs firmly pressed against the wall, less than an hour away from elimination, in just their second game of Group F play at the 2018 World Cup. As of this moment, they’re set to be eliminated with one game still to play.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After losing to Mexico in the opener, Joachim Loew’s side now trails Sweden in game no. 2, just shy of 45 minutes on the clock. As of right now, Mexico and Sweden (six points each) would go through to the knockout rounds, and Germany and South Korea (zero points) would go home.

Die Mannschaft were utterly dominant for the game’s first 30 minutes, holding more than 75 percent of possession, until Ola Toivonen, who scored all of two goals for Ligue 1 side Toulouse this season, got in behind the German backline and dinked the ball over the head of Manuel Neuer for the game’s opening goal.