Accam notches fifth goal of 2015 as Fire fall to Crew SC


Accam notches fifth goal of 2015 as Fire fall to Crew SC

David Accam's fifth goal of 2015 provided the Chicago Fire a glimmer of hope, but it was too little too late as the Men in Red succumbed to back-to-back defeats against Columbus Crew SC, stomaching a 3-1 decision in front of an announced crowd of 15,455 at Mapfre Stadium Sunday night.

Coming into the game after plucking four points from the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders FC, Frank Yallop's men were hoping to atone for a dismal first-half display and subsequent defeat to Gregg Berhalter's outfit on Wednesday. Instead, a stout Crew SC held on to add to their formidable home record, dashing any hopes of a first away win of the season for the Fire.   

A back-and-forth exchange in the opening stages saw Federico Higuaín convert a spot kick in the second minute to give the hosts a dream start until Accam answered with a blistering free kick seven minutes later. Goals from Kei Kamara -- his fourth in three encounters with the Men in Red -- and Ethan Finlay in the 17th and 83rd minutes, however, helped the Black & Gold inch within five points of Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United.

Yallop made a quintet of changes from the side that featured midweek, with Adaílton returning from suspension (yellow card accumulation) and sliding alongside Eric Gehrig at center back, moving Matt Polster to right back in place of Lovel Palmer. Patrick Nyarko and Matt Watson came in for Michael Stephens and Chris Ritter, respectively, while Accam earned his first start since the Fire's 3-2 defeat to Orlando City SC on June 6, allowing Harry Shipp -- deputizing for Mike Magee -- to take up a No. 10 role behind forward Jason Johnson, who stood in for Kennedy Igboananike.

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The third and final installment between the two sides got off to a flying start, as the hosts went direct from the opening kick, drawing a penalty kick 12 seconds in -- the earliest ever awarded in an MLS match -- after Ethan Finlay was dubiously brought down by Sean Johnson in the box. Higuaín stepped up and cooly slotted home for his 32nd career goal for Crew SC and 13th career penalty kick conversion.

Seven minutes later, Jason Johnson's fine holdup play on the edge of the area helped Accam cement his storming introduction, hitting a free kick that deflected off Justin Meram in the Crew wall and past 'keeper Steve Clark. It was the seventh time Berhalter's group conceded in the first 15 minutes of matches this year.

After the Fire nearly found the go-ahead score moments later -- with Razvan Cocis getting on the end of Nyarko's delivery and ruled just offside in the process -- Crew SC restored their lead in the 17th minute. Kei Kamara's presence came back to haunt the Fire yet again, as the Sierra Leone international rose head and shoulders above Sean Johnson to power home a header off of Waylon Francis's lofted cross to secure his league-leading 14th tally.

The back-and-forth affair ensued as Nyarko -- earning his second start of the campaign -- caressed an expert cross from Patrick Doody, electing to dribble around Clark despite having a clear sight at goal from close range and squandering a golden opportunity to pull level.

[RELATED: Yallop implores Fire to show 'fight and spirit' in Columbus

Five minutes into the second half, the match went from bad to worse as Jason Johnson was issued his second yellow card for simulation, presenting Yallop's depleted delegation with an uphill battle to find an equalizer. Half chances from the Men in Red were well-managed by Crew SC, which was rewarded with a third goal seven minutes from time. 

Substitutes Chad Barson and Kristinn Steindórsson combined to find Finlay lurking at the back post in the 83rd minute, who provided the insurance goal to leave the Fire without a win on their travels for the 16th time since a 1-0 win over the New England Revolution on July 12, 2014. The Men in Red face another quick turnaround with a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal fixture against Orlando City SC Wednesday at Toyota Park before resuming MLS play at home against the Revolution three days later.  

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Adaílton, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Guly do Prado, 70'), Matt Watson, Razvan Cocis (C), David Accam (Kennedy Igboananike, 70'); Harry Shipp (Collin Fernandez, 84'); Jason Johnson.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.