Fire

Big playoff implications for Fire's game in Montreal

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USA TODAY

Big playoff implications for Fire's game in Montreal

The list of players that won’t be playing in Saturday’s match between the Fire and the Montreal Impact could make for a pretty good team.

The Impact will be without six players who will be away for international duty and the Fire will be missing Dax McCarty for the same reason and are still shorthanded on defense due to injuries.

The timing of having so many players away for both teams coincides with the game having taken on greater significance due to recent results. Montreal (10-9-6, 36 points) had won four straight before dropping a home match to Toronto last weekend. The Fire (12-9-5, 41 points) have lost four in a row and six of seven and are now just five points ahead of the Impact and Montreal has a game in hand.

That means Saturday’s game (televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live) is a big one as far as getting into the playoffs. A loss for the Fire means the team’s playoff spot is very much up in the air. A win, or probably even a draw, will allow fans to take a deep breath for now. The Fire lost 3-0 in Montreal just over two weeks ago.

“There we make a couple of mistakes in the beginning of the game,” forward Nemanja Nikolic said. “They opened the game really good and after that we run just for the result. It was a really difficult game for us, now we need to be clever.”

The Impact will be without forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Canada), midfielders Blerim Dzemaili (Switzerland), Samuel Piette (Canada) and David Choiniere (Canada) and defenders Laurent Ciman (Belgium) and Shaun Francis (Jamaica). Ciman and Dzemaili are two of Montreal’s best players and Jackson-Hamel is second on the team with seven goals. Piette and Francis are recent acquisitions. Choiniere has been a rarely used sub.

McCarty is arguably the most important player on the Fire and the team’s defense is still going to be down at least three players. Joao Meira and Brandon Vincent will both be out though Matt Polster could return after rejoining the team in training this week. Polster has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Christian Dean’s injury last week against Minnesota means the Fire have two healthy center backs in Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell.

With all those players missing, things could be very different from the recent meeting. That said, Montreal is still a dangerous team with Ignacio Piatti (15 goals, 4 assists) in the attack.

“Both teams are in a different mood right now with different available players, us because of the injuries and they because of the players that are going with the national team,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “So we will see. It’s going to be a different game definitely. Last year we won there 3-0, this year they won 3-0 so we’ll see this one.

“It’s the opportunity to have a great game and finally recover all this great mood that we had in the past.”

The Fire have lost four straight on the road and given up 11 goals in those four games. The Fire sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and the three teams below in the standings all have at least one game in hand. The sense of urgency to get a result is real.

“We have to do better,” Juninho said. “We know them very well. We know what to expect. It’s going to be a good challenge for us as well. We have to go there and get points. In this time of the year you have to go get points the maximum you can.”

Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

Where: Stade Saputo, Montreal

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (12-9-5, 41 points), Montreal (10-9-6, 36 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.