Fire

Added time goal downs Fire against Montreal

Added time goal downs Fire against Montreal

Two streaks ended Saturday for the Chicago Fire.

The first was the club's shutout streak, which Didier Drogba ended with a 56th minute goal. The second was the four-match unbeaten streak after Ignacio Piatti scored in added time to down the Fire 2-1.

Piatti scored with a curling shot just outside the box to give the visitors the win after the Fire led at halftime.

"For sure it's difficult for us after having the lead and playing a good first half to see that we lost this game," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We have to learn how to play when we have a lead."

Kennedy Igboananike had given the Fire (1-2-3, 6 points) the lead in the 30th minute with an impressive curling shot from the left side of the box. Gilberto won a header at midfield and took advantage of a slip from the Montreal (4-2, 12 points) defense to start the break. Igboananike did the rest for his third goal of the season.

The Fire sat back and absorbed pressure without creating much before that goal. Igboananike's goal was the Fire's first shot on goal.

Some of that Montreal pressure was substantial, too. The Impact were inches from scoring in the 11th minute when a free kick found the head of Hassoun Camara. Camara's header got past goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but defender Jonathan Campbell was able to clear it off the line.

The Fire led 1-0 at halftime, but taking a lead into the second half meant Didier Drogba was a near-lock to come into the match. Drogba subbed on in the 50th minute and scored five minutes later because that's what legends do.

Matt Lampson cleared an inocuous back pass, but the errant pass landed right at the feet of Dominic Oduro. The former Fire forward hit a low cross into Drogba, who skillfully flicked the ball past Lampson into the goal.

"Honestly, I thought we neutralized him," Lampson said of Drogba. "That was a self-inflicted wound and he made us pay.

"He didn't create it. I created it for him."

That goal ended the Fire's shutout streak at 411 minutes, which set a new club record. The previous record was 395 minutes.

Matt Polster, who came on as a sub at halftime, became one of the Fire's best creating threats. In the 77th minute he burst down the left wing and hit a centering ball towards rookie Alex Morrell, who also subbed on, but Morrell's hard shot was nicely saved by Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush.

The move to start Polster on the bench was likely to give him some rest after a heavy recent workload that included playing for the Olympic qualifying team. Polster said he talked with Stephens about going forward more because he had fresher legs than Stephens and the Fire had been defending for much of the match.

When it appeared the match was headed for a draw, Piatti's killer shot silenced the Toyota Park crowd.

"For me, it wasn't a surprise," Paunovic said of Piatti's goal. "When I saw him coming inside, we prepared (for that). We knew that's how he likes to cut inside and finish, but the shot was perfect.

"What concerns me more is that we weren't mature in this game."

The Fire are off next weekend. The next match is April 30 at home against D.C. United.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.