David Accam has big night, Fire advance to U.S. Open Cup semifinal

David Accam has big night, Fire advance to U.S. Open Cup semifinal

As has been the case twice already this season, David Accam took a starring role in a U.S. Open Cup match for the Chicago Fire.

Accam had a goal and an assist in the Fire’s 3-0 win against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in an Open Cup quarterfinal at Toyota Park on Wednesday. Accam entered the match having scored all three of the Fire’s goals in cup games this season.

It didn’t take long for Accam to make his mark, earning and then converting a penalty kick not even five minutes into the match. Arturo Alvarez found him in space on the left wing and Accam was able to overcome a heavy touch in the box to get another touch before onrushing goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, who then tripped Accam.

"I had a lot of space," Accam said. "For us we tried to utilize the space they left behind and it paid off.”

After scoring the opener, Accam played provider with a highlight-reel caliber run through the Strikers’ defense. Accam won the ball at the halfway line and put the moves on Ft. Lauderdale defender Gale Agbossoumonde, making him fall over in the box. Accam then rounded Restrepo and sent a centering ball across the face of the goal for Michael de Leeuw to tap in.

“I just made a quick decision," de Leeuw said of his goal. "I was first searching for the first ball, but David dribbled through the left side and you know you can be there for the rebound. The ball fell for my feet.

"It’s good to score the second goal. It’s important and in the end the third goal was also important because we knew also it’s done. If it’s 2-nil and they score then you know it can be difficult, but at the end we played a good game.”

Accam played a factor in the third goal as well. Nick LaBrocca headed an Accam corner on target and Khaly Thiam scored on the rebound to make it 3-0 in the 51st minute.

"(The third goal) was actually the trigger for us to start with the Plan B, which was to rest guys and prepare for the next game,” coach Veljko Paunovic said.

De Leeuw was subbed off shortly after the third goal and Accam exited the match in the 72nd minute. The Fire's first sub came in the first half when Razvan Cocis picked up an injury that Paunovic described as a "very strong contusion" in his right calf.

The three-goal margin was the Fire’s first win by more than a goal this season. It was also only the second time the Fire have had a lead of more than a goal all season. The Fire led 2-0 against Columbus in the last round of the U.S. Open Cup before winning 2-1.

“I think today, especially in the second half, we had a great opportunity to rehearse how to play, how to control the game," Paunovic said. "After the third goal they dropped a little bit more so it was a great opportunity for us to learn how to manage these kind of games where you have the possession, where you have to build your play, be patient and be precise with the ball.

"First time for me this year where we were comfortable and we didn’t suffer that much, but that’s just one small step."

After Ft. Lauderdale held a slim 51-49 percent edge in possession at halftime, the Fire finished the match with 55 percent of the possession.

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It is the Fire’s fourth straight semifinal appearance in the Open Cup and fifth in the past six years. The semi will take place Aug. 9 against the New England Revolution, which beat the Philadelphia Union in penalty kicks in another quarterfinal. The Revolution are also the Fire's opponent in MLS play on Saturday.

“Semifinals, it’s not a small thing," Paunovic said.

The draw to determine the host of the semifinal will take place at 10 a.m. Central on Thursday.

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.