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)

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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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

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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.