Fire

With big game against Toronto looming, Fire first face trip to Montreal

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With big game against Toronto looming, Fire first face trip to Montreal

The Chicago Fire stormed through May and June without a loss in MLS play, but things have not gone as well lately.

As a result of losing three of the last four games, the Fire have dropped to third in the Eastern Conference and the chasing back isn’t far behind. That’s why general manager Nelson Rodriguez emphasized the importance of Wednesday’s game in Montreal, even with league-leading Toronto visiting Toyota Park on Saturday.

“We can’t look at Toronto yet,” Rodriguez said. “We have to look at Montreal. We just have to. I have to harp on that. A victory in Montreal makes the Toronto game all that more important on a lot of levels.”

The Fire (12-6-5, 41 points) face an Impact (8-8-6, 30 points) team that has won two in a row. The game will be live on CSN with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

After losing at Columbus a few days ago, the Fire had a short turnaround. The busy week, with Toronto still looming on Saturday, comes at a time when the Fire are trying to look like that team from May and June again.

“It’s been an interesting few weeks since the (Gold Cup) break,” Rodriguez said. “Admittedly, we have not regained the form that we took into the break and it’s been a whole new set of tests for us. Certain tests, like just playing quality opponents on the road, such as New York City and Sporting Kansas City, in the two immediate games after the break. Tests that I wouldn’t say we failed, but certainly we didn’t pass and showed that there’s still room for improvement on our end.”

Left back Brandon Vincent will miss a fifth straight game due to a quad injury. Joao Meira is also listed as questionable with a calf injury.

For Montreal, Ignacio Piatti has already established himself as one of the best players in the league. This season he has 10 goals and four assists, but the addition of Blerim Dzemaili has given the Impact another dangerous weapon in the attack. The Swiss international has six goals and five assists in 12 games.

Montreal has suffered three losses at home, but the Fire have lost three straight on the road. The Fire’s recent road struggles was another topic Rodriguez addressed at a media roundtable on Tuesday.

“I think they demonstrate something deeper, which is collective mentality and again I think, look we need to win some games on the road to change that and to improve upon that,” Rodriguez said. “I think it comes from time together, being in the fox hole, falling behind and winning a game on the road, pitching a shutout on the road if I could borrow a baseball phrase. I think we still view being on the road as being on the road as opposed to viewing it as an opportunity to play our way as we want, when we want, where we want, how we want, and so there needs to be some more collective mentality that goes into that. That’s an area that we have to improve upon, and if we don’t, and if we make the playoffs, it will be a short stay.”

Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

Where: Stade Saputo, Montreal

TV: CSN

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-6-5, 41 points), Impact (8-8-6, 30 points)

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.