Blas Perez's late bicycle kick undoes Fire in Vancouver

Blas Perez's late bicycle kick undoes Fire in Vancouver

The Chicago Fire had evened the match, had the momentum and Vancouver seemed shaky late in the second half.

Then Blas Perez scored what will end up as one of the goals of the season. Perez perfectly struck a bicycle kick in the 89th minute to give Vancouver a 2-1 win against the visiting Fire on Wednesday night.

After a lackluster first half in which Perez scored to give the Whitecaps (5-5-2, 17 points) a 1-0 halftime lead, Kennedy Igboananike had equalized with a shot that beat Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted at his near post. The Fire (1-3-4, 7 points) seemed rejuvenated with confidence and had the Whitecaps on the ropes.

The first half was probably one of the Fire's worst halves of the season. The Whitecaps had the lead, 65 percent of the possession and the Fire managed just two shots on goal.

Then Igboananike's goal in the 62nd minute sparked one of the Fire's better halves of the season. Igboananike used a series of step overs to get some separation from the defender and hit a low drive that beat Ousted at his near post. The Fire had extended stretches of possession in the second half and nearly scored another when Igboananike hit the post trying to beat Ousted on his near post again.

Perez's goal actually came against the run of play, but that won't matter on the final score. What could have gone down as a positive result on the road to build upon for the Fire became a crushing defeat thanks to one brilliant moment from Perez.

To open the scoring, Perez tapped in a Christian Bolanos cross from the right side. Bolanos got behind the Fire defender on the right wing after receiving a long ball. His low cross got all the way to Perez, who was behind goalkeeper Matt Lampson and defender Johan Kappelhof.

The first half came to a halt when Vancouver forward Masato Kudo and Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson collided going after a long ball in the Fire's penalty box. Lampson grabbed the ball, but the momentum of both players caused the collision. The medical staff on hand rushed to Kudo after he was bleeding from his mouth and was later determined to have a concussion. After a seven-minute delay, Kudo was sitting upright while being stretchered off and was taken to the hospital.

"I'm trying to stay high off my line and cover the space in behind," Lampson said during the halftime interview on the CSN+ broadcast. "Honestly, it's just unlucky. I'm going in and, I haven't seen it yet, I think his head just hit my shoulder. That's just part of the game. I'm sorry for Kudo and I wish him all the best. Obviously I'm not that type of player."

Perez subbed on to replace Kudo in the 19th minute.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic went back to a five-defender lineup with Joao Meira making his first start since March 19 against Columbus. Joey Calistri also made his first professional start, joining Igboananike up top in place of Gilberto, and had a pair of shots on goal. Gilberto was limited in training last week with a hamstring injury so not playing may not be a long-term demotion, but rather a move to ease him back to full health.

Matt Polster, on his way back from a calf injury that forced him to miss the April 30 match against D.C. United, came on as a halftime substitute for Michael Stephens.

The Fire have now gone winless in 28 straight matches on the road, which is a league record. They can snap that losing streak on Saturday when they take on New England, one of two other teams in the league with more matches played than points.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.