Fire

After loss to Impact, Fire look to bounce back against Red Bulls

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After loss to Impact, Fire look to bounce back against Red Bulls

When Frank Yallop looks back on the Fire’s last 27 regular season games, putting a finger on a solitary factor that has confined his team to last place in the Eastern Conference has proven to be more complex with the passing of time.

Earlier in the season, scoring issues hampered a struggling strike force. Without 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee, a considerable goalscoring burden was placed on the shoulders of newcomers Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam – among others – who found it difficult to find their feet after making the leap from the Swedish first division.

Fast-forward a few months and you’ll find Yallop delighted to be praising both of his prime, offseason acquisitions who, on seven goals apiece, appear to have hit their groove alongside Gilberto, who notched his first goal for the club in the 4-3 defeat to the Montreal Impact. A crippling and conceivably decisive blow to their postseason hopes, the Fire’s 14th loss of 2015 – equaling their total recorded in all of 1999 – left a bitter taste in the mouths of many and brought a more pronounced bag of issues to the fore. 

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“We haven’t defended well as a group,” Yallop said Wednesday. “Anytime you concede four goals, you don’t deserve to win the match. … We’re not putting the games together where defensively, we’re solid and we can score three goals. It’s either or: we score goals and we concede them in the same game, or we can’t score and the team punishes us for one chance. We’ve just got to get that balance.”

That balance will have to be discovered quickly when the Fire (7-14-6, 27 points) close out their three-match road spell with a visit to Red Bull Arena to face the New York Red Bulls (12-7-6, 42 points) on Friday night (6 p.m. CT; UniMás).

Four of the Fire’s remaining seven games will be played away from home – including the trip to Harrison, N.J. – leaving no room for error if they are to make up the four-point gap that separates them from Montreal in the table. The Impact (9-11-4, 31 points) occupy the sixth and final playoff spot with three games in hand on the Men in Red and New York City FC (7-13-7, 28 points), and two on Orlando City SC (7-13-8, 29 points) and the Philadelphia Union (8-14-6, 30 points).

Eclipsing Jesse Marsch’s side – which is currently in the midst of an extended break following a 3-0 drubbing of fellow Supporters’ Shield contender D.C. United – will be no easy feat. But the Fire will be comforted by their impressive showing against the Red Bulls at Toyota Park just two weeks prior.

[RELATED: New Fire defender Daneil Cyrus ready to make his mark]

“Just in general, we haven’t really had a good feeling of how to see a game through or win a game 1-0,” Yallop said. “It comes with a bit of time, but we’ve got to figure it out. If we can get a win on Friday, it does open it up again for us. It’s a tough game, but we’ve played against them, and we outplayed them at home. We’ve got to go there and expect to do the same.”

With victory paramount against the Red Bulls in a difficult setting, Yallop will seek out the best composite of players that fit the bill, and will surely benefit from having all of his first-choice starters back from international duty. The return of Accam will supply the Fire with more speed and natural width, while Joevin Jones and Matt Polster – to go along with Ty Harden’s recovery from a hamstring injury and Daneil Cyrus’ long-awaited arrival – will collectively provide more balance within the side to help nullify the Red Bulls’ high-press approach.

“We have to be comfortable defending in our own half, we have to be comfortable defending as a group,” captain Jeff Larentowicz added. “In an MLS game, there’s always going to be times when you give up chances, and you have to be able to weather those storms.”

Viewing information:

New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.

Broadcast: UniMás, Univision Deportes       

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.