After win vs. RBNY, Fire crave encore performance at Orlando


After win vs. RBNY, Fire crave encore performance at Orlando

"Sharp." "Fast." "Attacking."

When asked to describe the stark contrast between the Fire's 1-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids and 3-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls, rookie Matt Polster was quick to perceive the disparities, highlighting the response his teammates showed in putting together a three-goal effort for the fourth time in regular season play this year.

"I thought we were the better side against Colorado, but unfortunately, we let a goal in early and they just packed it in," said the 22-year-old on Friday, after learning of his call-up to the U-23 U.S. camp

In essence, the two games - both played at Toyota Park within a span of four days - epitomized the Men in Red's season to date: following up a discouraging result with an encouraging performance, and a desirable scoreline to match it. It's happened more than once this season.

Frank Yallop's men countered a season-opening, three match losing skid with three wins on the trot, followed up back-to-back draws against New York City FC and Columbus Crew SC with a 3-0 drubbing of the Montreal Impact to round out May and built on a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo with their first-ever win against Seattle Sounders FC eight days later.

[RELATED: Fire wary of 'big, big' hill to climb to keep playoff hopes alive]

The list goes on, and, after dethroning the Red Bulls and ending their six-match unbeaten run on Wednesday night, the Fire (7-13-5, 26 points) are craving an encore performance against Orlando City SC (7-12-7, 28 points) Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN+), which marks the beginning of a three-game road trip.

"We've got to feel good about ourselves from Wednesday, and hopefully we're nice and fresh," Yallop said Friday. "They [Orlando] didn't have a midweek game; they had a friendly, but the starters didn't get a midweek game. It's always a little bit in the back of your mind, but our guys are buoyant and ready, and can't wait for the game."

As it stands in the Eastern Conference standings, the Fire have a game in hand on Orlando City, who've shipped 13 goals in their last four games - not including a 3-1 loss in an exhibition against USL's Louisville City FC. With both sides on the outside looking in - the Men in Red sitting two points adrift of a playoff berth - it's all to play for. 

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

While the Fire enter Saturday night's clash against Adrian Heath's side behind an inspiring display against a red-hot Red Bulls team, the scene changes as six of their nine remaining fixtures will be played away from the confines of Toyota Park. In 11 regular season matches this year, the Men in Red have won none, lost seven and drawn four, a record that stretches further than just the 2015 campaign.

It's a statistic and narrative of the team's poor away form - winless since July 2014 - that suggests an inability to put the finishing touches on predominantly committed performances. If anything can been learned from results league-wide, the right blend of endeavor, clinical finishing and, perhaps a stroke of luck along the way can see any team coming away with a favorable result on the road.  

"It just goes to show how some of these other teams have done not so well either," midfielder Michael Stephens added of the parity in MLS. "The fact that we're only two points off is pretty shocking, but it is what it is. A lot of these teams in the bottom of the East, we keep beating each other and then a lot of the teams at the top of both conferences keep winning. ... There's still so much to play for."

Viewing information:

Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. CT

Where: Citrus Bowl; Orlando, Fla.

Broadcast: CSN Chicago Plus    

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

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.