Fire

Brad Guzan on MLS: The league has grown by leaps and bounds

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Brad Guzan on MLS: The league has grown by leaps and bounds

Since joining Aston Villa in 2008, Brad Guzan's transition from being a regular for Chivas USA in MLS to being taken under fellow compatriot Brad Friedel's wing in his first three years yielded few first team appearances in Birmingham.

When Friedel left the West Midlands for North London, however, the doors opened for Guzan. Having played second fiddle to Shay Given during the 2011-12 season, the 30-year-old still cobbled together seven appearances. From there, Guzan has established himself as Villa's No. 1, featuring in all but two league matches between 2012 and 2014.

Another praiseworthy enterprise throughout the 2014-2015 Barclays Premier League campaign eventually saw the American lose his place as Tim Sherwood's first-choice goalkeeper, however, as Given deputized for the remaining four matches along with a start in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal on May 30.

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Despite some of the uncertainty surrounding his role for the Villans, Guzan - born in Evergreen Park and raised in Homer Glen - is turning his attention to international duty with the U.S. national team. Under the guidance of veteran Tim Howard - amid a one-year sabbatical - Guzan, a one-time central midfielder at Providence Catholic High School, is now primed to claim the No. 1 jersey as Jurgen Klinsmann's side begins its CONCACAF Gold Cup defense in July. 

"It's definitely going to be different, but I'm excited for the challenge," he said. "Being in from the start, it's going to be an exciting tournament and an exciting month for us. Hopefully we finish it with a championship."

Prior to the Men in Red's 1-0 defeat to Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United, Guzan dropped by the Pregame Live set on CSN to chat with Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan about all things soccer. A former member of the Chicago Fire Reserves, Guzan reflected on his time as an up-and-comer, lauding Major League Soccer's commitment to developing talent and burgeoning into a well-respected league.

[MORE: Five things from Fire vs. D.C.: One chance is all it takes]

"It's huge," he added. "Giving opportunities to kids to come through the ranks, but then have the opportunities with the first team is such a huge part of soccer, not only with MLS, but with the growing of the sport as well.   

"The league has grown by leaps and bounds. The view of the league - from players, coaches and fans (in Europe) - is that it's getting bigger; it's getting better, not just because the David Beckhams of the world that came here and made a name for themselves. It's the standard of the league that's gone up, and it's starting to interest so many players over there."

After forgoing the rest of his college years at the University of South Carolina, Guzan went on to sign a Generation Adidas contract with MLS, and was subsequently picked by the now defunct Chivas USA in the 2005 SuperDraft. Ten years later, and with the league's popularity swelling, Guzan hasn't yet ruled out a return stateside.

"I've always said I want to finish my career playing in MLS," he said. "From the day I left to where it is now, it's something that I want to come back to. When that day is, I don't know. But at the moment, I'm enjoying my soccer over in England." 

Check out what else Guzan had to say in the video above.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

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.