Fire

Amarikwa goal catapults Fire into fifth round of USOC

firevlouisville06162015.png

Amarikwa goal catapults Fire into fifth round of USOC

On a picture-perfect evening at Toyota Park, it took a 116th-minute goal from Quincy Amarikwa for the Chicago Fire to punch their ticket into the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Wholesale changes from head coach Frank Yallop saw Sean Johnson, Chris Ritter, Michael Stephens, Matt Watson, Quincy Amarikwa and Jason Johnson break into the starting lineup in the 1-0 extra-time victory over Louisville City FC Tuesday evening.

"It was nice to get a clean sheet tonight; forget the opposition," said Yallop in his post-match press conference. "I am excited about the prospect of this team, it is an exciting team. I talked before; we wanted to make it a team that was good to watch. I don’t think you can judge us on that tonight, a lot of guys out, a lot of exciting players out.”

Following his debut in the 2-0 loss to New England Revolution, Greg Cochrane was restored into the side, sliding back to left back in place of Lovel Palmer. Matt Polster partnered alongside Adailton at center back as captain Jeff Larentowicz couldn't recover from a slight groin injury. Eric Gehrig retained his role at right back after a 90-minute showing in Foxborough.

[RELATED - Fire hold U.S. Open Cup in high regard: 'It's got history here']

Stephens and Ritter operated in the center of the midfield, with Watson and Harry Shipp situated to their right and left, respectively. Jason Johnson and Quincy Amarikwa spearheaded the Fire attack, replacing Guly do Prado and Kennedy Igboananike.

The Men in Red looked comfortable in possession through the opening quarter of an hour, controlling the rhythm while Louisville looked comfortable absorbing the pressure themselves.

Yallop's outfit struggled to create any cogent chances worthy of unnerving the USL delegation, however, with the visitors enjoying a somewhat fruitful first half excursion in their first match against MLS opposition. Louisville forward Matt Fondy - making his first appearance against his former team - stripped the Men in Red defense in the 12th minute and fired a low shot at Johnson, forcing a diving save from the Fire 'keeper. Ten minutes later, midfielder Magnus Rasmussen stung the tip of the crossbar with a rifling effort.

Just past the half hour mark, Amarikwa pounced on a terrible error from the Louisville back line, giving him a 1v1 opportunity against goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, but the Men in Red's most dangerous chance was spurned as he sent his slicing shot wide of the frame.

After emerging from the halftime interval scoreless, Shaun Maloney made his return from international duty with Scotland and entered the fray for Matt Watson to start the second half, turning a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation into a 4-2-3-1 setup.

[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]

The Men in Red came out with a relatively improved attitude to begin the second 45, but again failed to generate any meaningful chances to unsettle the visitors. A glancing header from Amarikwa in the 71st minute went just wide of Goodwin's frame, while Niall McCabe in the closing minutes arguably should have won the match for Louisville, if not for Adailton's intervention with a last-ditch tackle to keep the score deadlocked at zero.

The fourth-round fixture was subsequently forced into two, 15-minute extra time periods as the two sides failed to muster a late goal in regulation. With Maloney forced to exit from the second period with back spasms and not many shots hitting the target, it seemed as if penalty kicks beckoned. That was until Amarikwa turned home a wayward shot from Brazilian Guly do Prado with his head four minutes from time to allow the hosts to breathe a sigh of relief as the full time whistle followed.

"We won the game and we are into the next round," added Yallop. "I’ve got to take the positive and that was: we kept going, we kept fighting, we kept pushing. I know the team we are playing against is a lower league team, but I think with the guys we had missing and what we did on Saturday, it was a hard match for us and I think we obviously did enough to win.”

The narrow triumph sets up the Men in Red for the next phase of the tournament, which will be determined with the fifth round draw to take place Thursday at 10 a.m.    

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson (C); Eric Gehrig, Matt Polster, Adailton, Greg Cochrane; Matt Watson (Shaun Maloney, 46', Razvan Cocis, 97'), Chris Ritter, Michael Stephens, Harry Shipp; Jason Johnson (Guly do Prado, 63'), Quincy Amarikwa.      

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

schwein-221.jpg
USA TODAY

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

polster-217.jpg
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.