Fire

Dempsey's third Gold Cup goal helps U.S. clinch quarterfinal berth

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Dempsey's third Gold Cup goal helps U.S. clinch quarterfinal berth

The United States eeked out another nervy and narrow victory in CONCACAF Gold Cup play, topping Haiti, 1-0, behind a Clint Dempsey goal in the 47th minute in front of 46,720 at Gillette Stadium Friday night.

The win guarantees the top spot in Group A for the Americans, who stand on six points ahead of both Panama and Honduras.

The U.S. were outplayed for large parts of the first half, having to cope with wholesale changes to the side that narrowly carved out a 2-1 win over Honduras three days earlier.

An unfamiliar back four comprised of - from left to right - Greg Garza, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez and Brad Evans looked like it’s never played together before. It hadn't, and Jurgen Klinsmann's side opened itself up to Haiti, squandering possession in the midfield, fortunate not to be behind in several instances.

[RELATED: USMNT in pursuit of second Gold Cup victory, quarterfinal berth]

Haiti's best chance came 10 minutes in, when Mix Diskerud was dispossessed by James Marcelin, with the New York City FC midfielder taking the Haitian midfielder down from behind. The ensuing free kick 25 yards from goal from Mechack Jerome skimmed off the crossbar, a close call for 'keeper Brad Guzan and a golden chance as it was just the beginning of the underdogs' positive start.

The game suddenly became stretched, as Michael Bradley strode through the middle of the pitch in the 34th minute, hoping to find a breakthrough for the U.S. His run eventually found Jozy Altidore down the left flank, whose shot ricocheted off a mob of defenders and fell to the foot of Aron Johansson, who finished past Johnny Placide, but was whistled back for a dubious offside decision.

The teams entered the halftime break with a noticeable disparity, as the U.S. struggled to manage a disorganized midfield and attack, while Haiti came out of the gates flying: running faster, tackling harder, passing better, unlucky not to have found a goal in the process.

[SHOP: Get your USMNT gear here]

Two minutes into the second half, Gyasi Zardes - a halftime substitute for Altidore - suddenly got free in the box, picked out Dempsey, whose first-time finish gave the U.S. a relieved advantage.

Following the goal, Guerrier missed another opportunity just past the hour mark, climbing high above Evans to meet a delivery from open play, but he sent a header just wide of the frame to the relief of Guzan. Haiti continued to play to its strengths, using the counter attack to their advantage, but ultimately lacked the end product.

The U.S. travel to Kansas City, Kan. next for the third and final group stage match. Klinsmann's outfit will face 2013 Gold Cup runner-up Panama at Sporting Park at 7:30 p.m. CT.

United States Starting XI (subs):

Brad Guzan; Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Greg Garza (Fabian Johnson, 67'); Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud; Clint Dempsey; Aron Johannsson (Kyle Beckerman, 82'), Jozy Altidore (Gyasi Zardes, 46').

Haiti Starting XI (subs): 

Johnny Placide; Mechack Jerome, Kim Jaggy, Frantz Bertin, Reginal Goreux (Sony Norde, 82'), Kevin Lafrance (Sebastian Thuriere, 70'); Wilde-Donald Guerrier, James Marcelin, Jean-Marc Alexandre, Jean Eudes Maurice (Jeff Louis, 67'); Duckens Nazon.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

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

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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.