Fire

Another late goal forces Fire to settle for draw against Red Bulls

Another late goal forces Fire to settle for draw against Red Bulls

The New York Red Bulls didn’t put a shot on target for more than 87 minutes, but still managed to score two goals and leave Toyota Park with a draw on Sunday.

The Chicago Fire gave the Red Bulls an own goal in the first half and Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in the 90th minute to prevent the hosts from coming away with a win. David Accam and Matt Polster scored for the Fire in the 2-2 draw.

Polster’s own goal in the 16th minute gave the Red Bulls (9-9-5, 32 points) the lead before either team had registered a shot. Mike Grella crossed in a ball that seemed like it would be easy to deal with for goalkeeper Sean Johnson, but Polster slid to block the cross and knocked it into the goal.

“(Johnson) and I talked at halftime," Polster said. "It looked like Sean was going to have it, but then it kind of hung up there. So last second I went for it and just a little miscommunication. I didn’t hear anything, but I should have just cleared it myself. I think sometimes you have to take it into your own hands and just do it. I second-guessed myself and that’s on me.”

"Shot from Grella, I don’t think it was a cross," Johnson said. "I’m waiting on it skip through and collect. Polster comes, he sees the ball dying and tries to make a play on it and clears it out, but as a goalkeeper that’s the type of position when a shot is coming in you expect the ball is going to come through. I didn’t know Polster was going to come through and make a play on it so it’s OK. These things happen and at the end of the day you learn from plays like that with players in front of you."

The Fire (4-10-6, 18 points) tied things up in the 35th minute through David Accam. Accam got control of a loose ball in the New York half and dribbled to the edge of the box, where he unleashed a low shot which tucked just inside the post.

That was Accam’s fifth goal of the season, giving him sole possession of the team lead in goals scored. Recently traded forward Kennedy Igboananike was tied with Accam at four goals entering the match.

[SHOP: Get your own Fire home jersey here]

Polster was able to make up for the own goal in first-half added time. John Goossens curled in a cross from the right that found Polster open at the back post. Polster scored with a diving header, his first professional goal, to give the Fire the lead.

The two goals marked just the third time this season the Fire have scored more than a goal in an MLS game.

The Fire had done well to limit the touches of Wright-Phillips, but he converted his only big chance of the match by volleying in a Connor Lade cross. The Red Bulls had just two shots on target in the match.

"We dropped back too much and we allowed them to play," Accam said. "That was difficult for us because we were chasing the ball in the second half and we didn’t have enough energy to go forward. I think we should have played like we played in the first half. Keep pressuring them and trying to keep the ball in their half, but we didn’t do that.”

There were injuries on both sides. Key New York midfielder Dax McCarty and Fire defender Joao Meira both exited late in the first half. Meira had a hamstring strain.

The Fire’s next game is Saturday at Real Salt Lake.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

schwein-not-playing.jpg
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.