The Chicago Fire leave for Vancouver on Tuesday to start a three-match road trip. The team will be missing a few players when taking on the Whitecaps on Wednesday.
David Accam's return from a knee sprain is nearing, but he won't make the flight to British Columbia. Coach Veljko Paunovic told reporters during his weekly conference call that the speedy Ghanaian will travel to Boston for the May 14 match at New England. The Vancouver match will be the sixth in a row that Accam has missed.
"(Accam) will join us for the game in Boston because we are working still on his fitness and we want to take advantage of this possibility to build up his fitness level," Paunovic said.
New signing Khaly Thiam will also not travel to Vancouver. The new midfielder doesn't have his visa yet.
"(Thiam) didn’t get his visa for Canada and he will not be on this trip to Vancouver, but he will also, same as David, join us in Boston," Paunovic said.
Thiam is coming off a full season in Hungary. The season ended on April 30 and Thiam made 31 appearances.
Paunovic said his fitness is good, but the Fire need to be careful to give him some rest so they don't wear him down. By the end of the MLS regular season at the end of October, Thiam will have gone 14 months without an offseason.
"The first three days we gave him off and recovered him," Paunovic said. "He also is not going to travel to Vancouver so we are also taking advantage of that to give him some rest and prepare him for the coming games. His quality obviously is very good on the ball. He is a guy who likes to have possession and that was something we were lacking of. I think he is going to help improve that part of the game and also he knows to score. He tries to score. He takes shots from distance and he is attacking the ball and everything we need at this point.”
Elsewhere on the injury front, John Goossens will still be out after suffering a sprained LCL. Matt Polster and Alex Morrell, who both missed the last match and were limited in practice last week, trained with the team on Monday and will travel to Vancouver.
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.
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.