Fire

In beating Montreal, Fire get most important win of the season

In beating Montreal, Fire get most important win of the season

As the Fire's losing streak continued, the chasing playoff pack got closer and closer in the standings.

The Fire entered Saturday’s match in Montreal in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and only five points ahead of the Impact, currently in seventh place, and Montreal had a game in hand. Simply earning a draw on the road to prevent a close playoff rival from gaining ground would have been a very positive result for the Fire. The 1-0 win they got? That’s the most important one of the season so far.

Bastian Schweinsteiger came up with the goal less than 10 minutes after Montreal’s Deian Boldor was given a red card, which required video review. Matt Polster, who made his first appearance since Aug. 12, had the assist on the play.

“It’s massive for us to get back into the flow of things and get back on that right path of winning and trying to hit (our) stride in the playoffs,” Polster said on the CSN+ broadcast.

It wasn't a pretty performance. The Fire's issues in the attack were still present with just two shots on target, but the defense held up, even surviving an 80th minute shot off the post by Ignacio Piatti.

The Fire ended a four-game losing streak, leaped ahead of Columbus to take over third place again and are now eight points above the playoff line. Another big one is at Toyota Park next week when the fifth-place New York Red Bulls come to town, but, for now, the Fire are back in the win column and have some separation above the teams below them.

This is the third road win of the year for the Fire and it is the best team the Fire have beaten away from home.

Polster wasn’t the only player to return. Brandon Vincent came on as a sub in the 89th minute to replace a cramping Patrick Doody. Vincent hadn’t played since July 5.

David Accam missed the match with an ankle injury. Accam has been nursing a hip injury in recent weeks and has been leaving training early in an effort to ease the workload on his body.

With no Accam, Dax McCarty (national team duty), Joao Meira and Vincent still only coming off the bench, the Fire delivered three points against an also shorthanded Montreal team which was missing six players due to international call-ups.

The Fire still may not catch New York City FC, which is three points ahead of the Fire with a game in hand, for second place and a first-round bye. At least now, the Fire’s playoff spot once again appears secure and a home playoff game in the first round is more likely than it was before tonight.

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

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AP

Special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast: What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer?

It's a special edition of the Fire Talk Podcast!

Dan Santaromita, Justin O’Neil, JJ Stankevitz and Tom Cooper try to answer all the questions that surfaced after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup. What went wrong in qualifying, who was at fault, what can be fixed, will things get better? Has any American soccer fan calmed down even a week after? The four on the panel sure still are plenty fired up.