Bye week allows Bliss to fine-tune Fire, observe trialists


Bye week allows Bliss to fine-tune Fire, observe trialists

After securing their first win since Aug. 26 last weekend, the Fire were back on the training field for four straight days and closed out the week with a competitive, full-field scrimmage on Friday.

Between their result against the New England Revolution and final away fixture of the season against D.C. United, the Men in Red will experience a 15-day break in action, the longest since a 20-day interval in mid-April.

The Fire will take Saturday and Sunday off and take advantage of the bye week before regrouping to prepare for a trip to the nation's capital on Oct. 18 (1 p.m. CT; CSN/CSN+).

Some notes from training:

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Trialists converge

Interim coach Brian Bliss invited five players from the USL ranks to join the team in training: Romeo Filipović (Arizona United), Jamiel Hardware (Saint Louis FC), Parker Maher (Saint Louis FC), James Musa (Saint Louis FC) and Jason Plumhoff (Harrisburg City Islanders).

"Knowing in advance that you're going to lose guys [to the international break] and knowing we had the [bye week], it was an easy solution to get these guys in this week and keep the numbers up," Bliss said.   

Five Fire players in action during international break

David Accam (Ghana), Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), Collin Fernandez (U.S. U-20s) and Matt Polster (United States Under-23s) are all with their respective national teams, and will remain with them until the end of the current international window (Oct. 13).

- Accam is in Washington, D.C. as the Black Stars ready themselves for their international friendly against Canada at RFK Stadium on Oct. 13.

- Cyrus and Jones both featured for head coach Stephen Hart's side in a gritty 2-1 victory over Panama on Oct. 8. Cyrus was a second-half substitute and played 35 minutes, while Jones started and came off at the 77-minute mark. The Soca Warriors return to Port of Spain, Trinidad to face Nicaragua at Hasely Crawford Stadium on Oct. 13.

- Fernandez earned a late call-up to the U.S. U-20s prior to the New England match. Fernandez, along with Fire Academy standout Cameron Lindley, were summoned by head coach Tab Ramos to take part in the Four Nations Tournament. Ramos' outfit was handily dealt an 8-1 loss at the hands of the host nation in Stuttgart on Oct. 6. The U-20s face Scotland on Oct. 9 and wrap up the event with a match against Mexico on Oct. 12.

- Polster helped Andi Herzog's group record three wins in group play and secure a spot in the Olympic qualifying tournament semifinal against Honduras (2 p.m. CT; Telemundo) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The Fire rookie started and featured the full 90 minutes at right back in the opening 3-1 win over Canada on Oct. 1, and at midfield in the comfortable 4-0 victory over Panama on Oct. 6. The 22-year-old also started and played 60 minutes against Cuba, and tallyed an assist in the U.S.'s 6-1 win on Oct. 3.

[RELATED: Doody hopes to take experience gained from USL to MLS, Fire

Injury update

Following a convincing 3-1 victory over the Revolution, Bliss confirmed to reporters that midfielder Razvan Cocis and forward Gilberto took knocks to the ankle and the "top of the foot," respectively. Both were involved in full training throughout the week.

Adaílton (core muscle repair surgery), Ty Harden (right adductor strain) and Sean Johnson (left shoulder labral tear) all continued to do work off to the side. Adaílton engaged in light jogging around the field separate from Harden and Johnson, who progressed to some sprint work along the sideline. Eric Gehrig (navicular stress fracture) - on crutches - watched on from afar.

NOTE: Harden, Mike Magee and Matt Watson will be the three out-of-contract players when the regular season ends on Oct. 25, a club spokesman confirmed.   

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.