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Bliss hopes to replicate past interim stint, win with Fire in Montreal

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Bliss hopes to replicate past interim stint, win with Fire in Montreal

If the narrative of Brian Bliss provisionally setting aside his daily chores as technical director and taking up the role of interim head coach – and winning – sounds familiar, it should.

When Columbus Crew SC owner Andrew Precourt relieved then head coach Robert Warzycha of his duties in the latter stages of the 2013 regular season, Bliss deputized for the remaining eight games. Between Sept. 4-Oct. 27, he posted four losses, but won four matches – two of which came away from home – in the process and nearly helped push Crew SC into the postseason.

After overseeing his first training session as the Chicago Fire’s interim head coach on Monday, with interim assistant and current club Vice President Logan Pause and Head of Scouting Trevor James in tow, Bliss was quick to remind reporters of a befitting memory.

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“I had my first away victory with Columbus in Montreal,” he said.

On Wednesday, Bliss will patrol the technical area yet again and look to do the same as the Fire (7-16-6, 27 points) visit the Montreal Impact (10-11-6, 36 points) for the second time this month, the third and final installment between both sides this season (7 p.m. CT; My50 Chicago).

"It's going to take a good, collective effort," Bliss added. "I don't want to peg myself as a defensive coach, but in the last month and a half we've leaked more goals than we have in the first two-thirds of the year. We need to be more committed, sharper, not only individually but collectively. I think we have enough talent to score goals, but when you're scoring two or three on the road and still not getting results then you've got to start looking at the collective defending. I'm not saying we have to shut somebody out, that would be nice, but I just think overall commitment on the defensive side will help."

[RELATED: Sean Johnson, Eric Gehrig suffer season-ending injuries

In their last six away regular season fixtures alone - which dates back to a 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Aug. 7 - the Fire have leaked 13 goals. The team posted at least two goals and led in three of those six (a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 16, a 4-3 loss to the Impact on Sept. 5 and a 3-2 collapse against the New York Red Bulls). Before then, similar issues surfaced in back-to-back draws with New York City FC and Crew SC in May.

With only a month remaining and playoff hopes hanging by a thread, jobs are at stake and there's little room for error with more games left to play away from the confines of Toyota Park.  

“In this transitional period, I think we needed that,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said of the idea of team bonding throughout the weeklong stay in Canada. “We’re going to be together on the road for almost a week, and it builds character. We get to know the coaches a little bit more, how they like to operate. … Right now, it’s just about getting something positive. Be it a positive performance or something headed toward the right direction because that’s what we need. We’re just building toward the future and the next year, but it has to start now. We need to identify what we’re lacking and what we need to do to be successful as a team, and then buy into it and go from there.” 

[MORE FIRE: Busch, Nyarko take comfort in familiarity with Brian Bliss]

Viewing information:

Montreal Impact vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 7 p.m. CT

Where: Stade Saputo; Montreal, Quebec.

Broadcast: My50 Chicago

NOTE: Due to conflicts with the Cubs' and Blackhawks' schedule, the match will be shown on My50 Chicago with the regular broadcast tandem of Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan. MLS Live blackout will also be lifted to ensure fans will have access to watch.

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.