Calistri brace gives Fire another preseason win


Calistri brace gives Fire another preseason win

A number of lineup changes didn't change the result for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire beat Minnesota United FC 4-0 in the Fire's second match of the Simple Invitational from Providence Park in Portland on Wednesday.

There were six changes from the starting lineup that took to the field in the 3-2 win against Vancouver on Sunday. Only Michael Harrington, Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster and Joey Calistri returned as starters from that win. All five of those players subbed off at halftime. Three of those five are defenders, so Fire coach Veljko Paunovic appears to recognize that the defense needs to get game action together to develop chemistry because all of them are new to the team.

Despite the changes it was another preseason victory. For whatever it's worth, the Fire are now 4-0 in 90-minute preseason matches.

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Joey Calistri was the standout with two first-half goals.

Calistri's first came in the 24th minute when he found some room in the penalty box and calmly finished. Michael Harrington had sent in a cross from the right that bounced around a bit near Brandon Vincent before landing at Calistri's feet. It was a nice display of composure in the box for Calistri.

The same three names were involved in the second goal. Harrington hit a low cross that went all the way across the face of goal and just stayed in play by the time Vincent got to it. Vincent found Calistri open in the box and he scored with a first-touch finish just inside the far post.

Kingsley Bryce scored the third with a looping header that effectively was a chip shot over goalkeeper Kristian Nicht.

Of note in the second half was the first glimpse of Brazilian right back Rodrigo Ramos. Ramos joined the team in camp earlier this week and could challenge for the starting spot at right back. Ramos assisted on Bryce's goal with a cross.

Alex Morrell did his part to add an exclamation point on the match by drawing a penalty kick in the 88th minute. Morrell is known for his speed and ability in 1-on-1 situations and showed both. He beat one man with a nice move just outside the box and a second Minnesota defender tripped him in the penalty box. Arturo Alvarez finished the penalty kick for the final goal.

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It's worth mentioning that while Minnesota expects to join Major League Soccer next season as an expansion team, the club is still in the North American Soccer League and lost 4-0 to the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

The Fire's final preseason game will take place on Saturday against the Simple Invitational host Portland Timbers at 7 p.m. CT.

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.