Fire

Arturo Alvarez's early goal snaps Fire's skid

Arturo Alvarez's early goal snaps Fire's skid

The Chicago Fire got a welcome return home and a desperately needed three points on Saturday.

The Fire snapped a three-game losing streak, all of which came on the road, and a six-match winless streak in a 1-0 win against Houston at Toyota Park.

Arturo Alvarez's goal in the third minute, which was his first for the Fire (2-5-4, 10 points), was the difference.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start. Will Bruin nearly scored for Houston (3-7-2, 11 points) in the second minute, but a clear handball by Giles Barnes waved off the goal. Soon after Gilberto lofted a ball into the box towards Arturo Alvarez, who got behind DaMarcus Beasley and redirected it past Tyler Deric with one touch.

“I knew he was ready to make a cross," Alvarez said of Gilberto. "I felt like maybe if I can sneak in there maybe the ball would bounce and beat Beasley. It did. Sometimes you just guess and it kind of falls through.”

Beasley, a former member of the Fire, made a couple uncharacteristic mistakes early was subbed off in the 13th minute. He was trying to play through an illness, but was unable to continue.

The win came at the end of a stretch of four games in 11 days for the Fire. The first three were all losses on the road.

"It hasn’t been an easy two weeks," Alvarez said. "Four games in two weeks, a lot of traveling, but I think the group showed good character."

In addition to the assist Gilberto totaled eight shots, including two on goal that forced impressive saves by Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric. Even in the absence of David Accam, who was suspended, this was one of the Fire's best games of the season in terms of generating chances and shots on goal. Gilberto, who has yet to score this season, has been a part of the problem, but contributed to the Fire's win on Saturday.

"I think he deserved to score today, not only because he had those chances, but he played for the team," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Gilberto. "He was generous with teammates and he was close. We just encourage him to keep on working hard and keep on working for the team, supporting and leading the team into attack and in defense.”

The Fire still had just 37 percent of the possession against a Houston team which prefers to play longball. The Dynamo are just one spot ahead of the Fire in the league in terms of possession, 19th out of 20 teams. However, the Fire held the edge in shots at 20-10 and 7-3 in terms of shots on target.

Houston is now 0-6 on the road this season.

Paunovic made five changes to the Fire's lineup from Wednesday's loss at the New York Red Bulls, including the entire midfield. Matt Polster returned after being rested Wednesday and played alongside Michael Stephens and Nick LaBrocca. Alvarez also returned in place of Joey Calistri and Gilberto took Accam's spot.

The Fire are home again next Saturday when they take on the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers.

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.