Fire

Bliss: Fire 'should be playing for self-pride, plus the fans'

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Bliss: Fire 'should be playing for self-pride, plus the fans'

When the final whistle sounded at BMO Field on Saturday night, the Chicago Fire's fluctuating season and playoff chances, albeit improbable, were officially halted.

After extensive changes to the technical staff on the heels of a 1-0 setback to Orlando City SC on Sept. 19, the team's most recent stay in Canada yielded back-to-back defeats to the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, spelling another taxing month for the Men in Red.

A club-record 18th loss at the weekend was enough to mathematically eliminate the team from postseason play, but Fire interim coach Brian Bliss insists morale has not wavered.     

“We didn’t get a lot of time in terms of training, but the guys seem to be willing, good-spirited, up for the challenge," Bliss told reporters Monday via teleconference. "In this situation, with as many losses that have mounted up, usually you’ve got a lot of finger pointing and divisiveness in the locker room. That doesn’t seem to be the case at least from what I’ve noticed. Wished we would have had more time at home to do some training prior to, but the flipside was we got a lot of togetherness while on the road, and maybe that was a good thing, too."

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The Fire finished September with five consecutive losses, four of which came away from Toyota Park and three that saw Bliss' group maintain a lead. Ultimately, a collective commitment to defense and attack was lacking, and, with three regular season matches left to play, dignity and a responsibility to perform for an upset fanbase is on the line.         

“That’s always the case, you hear that in any sport when you get down to it," Bliss added when asked if the next month serves as an audition for roster spots come 2016. "Coaches want to come out and pound a table and say, ‘You’re fighting for your jobs next year.’ I don’t want to go down that path because I don’t want to get into a position where I’m trying to threaten guys into trying to play better or buy into what we’re trying to do. They’ve got to find their own way to do that and show that.

"Guys are trying to play for next year, but they also should be playing for themselves and a little bit of self-pride, plus the fans. That’s what they should be rallying around, not so much rallying around a job.” 

[RELATED: 'Detail oriented' GM Nelson Rodriguez a welcome addition to Fire]

Injury notes:

- Ty Harden suffered a groin strain, and had to step out of training on Friday prior to the Toronto game. "He was a late scratch from the lineup," Bliss said, "and probably in the same boat heading into the weekend [vs. New England Revolution].”

- Following his return from ACL surgery, Patrick Nyarko was replaced by Joevin Jones at the 55-minute mark after sustaining a knock. “Patrick had a collision in the first half that caused some swelling and some pain on the outside of his knee," Bliss added. "I believe he’ll be fine going into Thursday’s training and should be available for the weekend.”

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.