Fire

Doody hopes to take experience gained from USL to MLS, Fire

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Doody hopes to take experience gained from USL to MLS, Fire

Forgive Fire defender Patrick Doody if, by the end of his first season in MLS, he’s still a little overwhelmed by the transition.

The 23-year-old is not exactly the new kid on the block anymore. But since inking his first professional contract as the club’s sixth Homegrown signing on Dec. 22, 2014, Doody – more than most of his teammates could attest to – has had to make the near-300 mile commute between St. Louis and Chicago more than he would have preferred.  

"It was definitely more back-and-forth than I thought when I originally went to St. Louis," he said, "but that's a good thing."

Doody logged just 62 minutes for the Men in Red during preseason before being shipped out on loan to Saint Louis FC, the Fire’s USL affiliate. A mainstay at left back, Doody started in 18 games and recorded a team-high four assists, and became a fan favorite in no time - a supporter-themed Twitter account was created in his name. 

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"I really enjoyed it, St. Louis was incredible," he added. "It was really helpful for me, but of course the end goal is always being [in Chicago]. Anytime I could be up here it's a good feeling."

Saint Louis missed out on the playoffs, but with match fitness gained week in and week out, consistent exposure and game repetition in the third tier kept the door open for the Fire technical staff to recall the Naperville native at any point.

“He’s done fine,” Fire interim coach Brian Bliss told reporters this week. “We’ve tracked him in St. Louis with some of the stuff that he’s done there. We’ve gotten some good reports from the coaches down there, and that’s a good story that he went and got some games there, and worked on his game, improved. I didn’t have any hesitations about dropping him in over there.”

Largely on the fringes for the first half of the regular season, Doody – a Fire Academy and PDL product – bided his time, driving to and fro before eventually debuting in a dramatic 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC on July 11. He also received the starting nod in the ensuing back-to-back defeats to Columbus Crew SC.

[RELATED: Fire notes: Razov ROF induction, CHIvNE preview, Nyarko fit]

Doody has provided the Fire with a distinct style of play at left back in relief of Joevin Jones, whose international call-ups and a slight drop in form have presented the Indiana graduate with opportunities to shine. When the Fire take on the New England Revolution on Saturday at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT; My50 Chicago), Jones could very well make his return, but Doody has proved his worth, and his performances have certainly not gone unnoticed. 

"Looking at the road and looking at where Joevin’s been the last four or five weeks, I thought we needed a little more concentration on the defensive side of things rather than the attacking side," Bliss said. "I think Doody gave us that in spades; he battled and battled. He shut some guys down over there and stopped some crosses from coming in. He was holding that down pretty well. I commend him for that because it’s not easy to be thrown into that. He did well.

“After he’s [Jones] come back from the Gold Cup, it’s no secret; he hasn’t been in his top form like he was prior to when he went to the Gold Cup. I figured I’d try to give him a break, and put him into the lineup as a sub maybe in a couple other places where we know he can play just to see if he could find a little bit of form and find his game. … I would think somewhere along the line in these last three games, you’ll probably see him back at left back doing what he was capable of doing the first half of the season."

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.