Fire

Drew Conner brings versatility to Fire

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Drew Conner brings versatility to Fire

Drew Conner doesn’t know what his role will be with the Chicago Fire, but he is confident he can fill a number of different ones.

Conner, a Cary native, was a four-year starter at Wisconsin, but moved around the midfield in his time with the Badgers. His primary and preferred role was as a defensive midfielder, but said he also played out wide and as an attacking midfielder during his sophomore season.

“I’ve played pretty much everywhere in the midfield for Wisconsin,” Conner said. “I think I could also play maybe in the wide back positions as well. I think that’s one of my upsides as a player, just my versatility and the fact that I can play both ways.”

[MORE FIRE: New homegrown signing Joey Calistri has long history with Fire]

That versatility could help him earn playing time with the Fire sooner, especially considering his preferred defensive midfield role is occupied by Rookie of the Year finalist Matt Polster. That’s just fine with Conner.

“Obviously when you take a step up to the next level you’re never going to play your normal position,” Conner said. “A lot of times you’re going to have to adjust so I’m ready for wherever they see me best.”

Conner said he has played soccer since he could kick a ball and his father, Tom Conner, has had a big influence on his game. Tom Conner played at Eastern Illinois under former FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman and was a part of the Panthers’ 1981 Final Four squad.

“This has kind of been both of our dreams,” Drew Conner said. “He’s been there by my side the whole way. It was a special moment when I got the call. Madison is only two hours away from where I live so he drove up from Cary and we went out for dinner and it was great.”

His dad wasn’t the only one to share the big moment with him. When the call came from technical director Brian Bliss, general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic, Drew Conner was watching TV in his Madison apartment with friends.

“The call came and I had to shush everyone,” Drew Conner said. “There were like eight other guys in the room so it was a fun moment. It was a bit overwhelming just to talk to all those guys, hear the news and hear all of them talk.”

[MORE FIRE: Fire sign homegrown players Joey Calistri, Drew Conner]

Drew Conner noted, like fellow new homegrown signing Joey Calistri, that both Paunovic and Rodriguez were both high energy and optimistic of a turnaround at the club. However, Bliss was a pleasant familiar voice to hear.

“It was cool getting the call from Bliss, too, because he was my PDL coach this summer,” Drew Conner said. “He’s been awesome with me and I learned a lot playing from him this summer.”

Bliss wasn’t the only Fire coach that Drew Conner credited with his development. He raved about playing under recently departed Academy director Larry Sunderland.

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“Larry Sunderland did an outstanding job developing me as a player,” Drew Conner said. “I can’t stress enough how much Larry did for me as a player. I don’t think if I wouldn’t have come into the Academy at 14 and had Larry for four years that I would be in this place.”

Drew Conner is staying fit until the preseason starts, but first he has to worry about finals. After signing his contract on Thursday he had one more final and one paper still to complete. He said he will be about 16 credits short of graduating with a degree in life sciences communications after leaving after this semester.

“I’m just excited to elevate my game by surrounding my game with professional players,” he said.

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.