Fire

Amarikwa: I've been looking to break through for a while now

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Amarikwa: I've been looking to break through for a while now

In his third full season with the Chicago Fire, Quincy Amarikwa hasn't had much luck finding the back of the net. 

One of four players to have featured in all 14 MLS regular season matches thus far, half of the Bakersfield, Calif., native's appearances have come as a substitute. In that time, the Fire's No. 24 has let 32 shots fly at the opposition's goal, a team-leading statistic matched only by Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp.

Characterized by his dogged work rate and a willingness to goad defenders into turning the ball over, the 25-year-old's unswerving tenacity yielded his first goal of the season in the Men in Red's 1-0 extra time victory over USL's Louisville City FC.

"That's the name of the game: you create enough chances, and you take enough shots on goal, eventually you'll score," Amarikwa said. "That was the mentality going into the game. I've been looking to break through for a while now, and it's nice to get the monkey off your back. It's just a matter of continuing to not let the misses keep you from taking your next chance."

[RELATED: Amarikwa goal catapults Fire into fifth round of USOC]

Amarikwa's lone goal in Tuesday night's triumph snapped a prior three-game losing streak in the league, but against lower opposition in the fourth-round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fixture, clinical finishing - among some of the team's other collective concerns - materialized once more, evidenced by the 17 shots taken by the Fire, with only two of them registered on target.

A thorn in the side of the group through the better part of the campaign - which is rapidly nearing its halfway point - a disgruntled Frank Yallop also disclosed his discontentment with his players' lack of effort against a readily determined opponent, eventually calling on Amarikwa to provide the spark.      

"I didn’t think our first half was up to standards for a team trying to win the cup," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "This is round one, but you're trying to win a trophy. I thought we were sleep walking through it and not applying ourselves. And I told him that. I think a saw a response, not in our general play but in our desire. It showed in the end, we did keep going. We did get the goal that we wanted in the end. The result is all that matters.”

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With several regulars rested and others still recovering from having played 72 hours earlier, Yallop said it's difficult to judge a makeshift starting lineup from Tuesday's Open Cup display. 

Claiming their fourth clean sheet overall, the Men in Red now have the Open Cup fifth round draw (Thursday at 10 a.m.) to look forward to before returning to Toyota Park for another midweek encounter against D.C. United next Wednesday. As for Amarikwa, a first goal since providing the winning tally in preseason against Queens Park Rangers leads the striker to believe an upturn in playing time can present itself.  

"That was my first 120-minute game in a long time, and my first 90-minute game in a month and a half or two months," he added. "No matter how much you run in training or how much you train, it's not the same as match fitness. I did the best to run as much as I could to gain as much match fitness as I could today, and I'm hoping that translates into more minutes down the road."   

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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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

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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.