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Dutch pair find new home with the Fire

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Dutch pair find new home with the Fire

The life of a professional soccer player can take players to many different countries with very different cultures.

It's easy to become a fish out of water so when two Dutch players both signed with the Chicago Fire this offseason, it made for an easy friendship.

After training on Wednesday, John Goossens, who signed with the Fire following a preseason trial, and Johan Kappelhof, who transferred from Dutch club FC Groningen, were the last two to leave the field. They stayed several minutes after the session ended and hit cross-field passes to each other.

Goossens joined the Fire on trial in early February, midway through the team's stint in Tampa. Kappelhof's transfer became official on Feb. 2, but he didn't join camp until the team was in Portland for the final phase of the preseason.

“I was very happy that he came during my trial here," Goossens said. "It’s good to have somebody around who you can speak your own language.”

[MORE: Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez recalls busy offseason]

Despite enjoying the familiarity of being able to speak Dutch to each other, both are good English speakers. Both also played in the famed youth academy of Ajax in Amsterdam before beginning their professional careers elsewhere in the Netherlands.

Neither player has much history in the US. Goossens visited Florida on a vacation once while Kappelhof had never been in the country before joining the team in the preseason. Perhaps it was fitting that after arriving in Chicago on Sunday they were greeted with a snowstorm on Tuesday.

While knowledge of Major League Soccer in general was limited for both players, they made sure to do some research on the Internet.

“If I thought about MLS there’s a few clubs I know," Kappelhof said. "There’s Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls. I knew the club and for myself I look on the Internet for some more information.”

"It’s really hard to follow the league on television in Europe, but I was interested a couple years ago in MLS," Goossens said. "I started searching on the Internet and I’m excited to be here.”

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So far the Fire and the country have left a good impression on Goossens.

“Here in the US everything is so professional," Goossens said. "It’s a high level. Everything from cleats, the clothes onto the pitch, everything is high level. I’m really happy and satisfied with the situation.”

The way Goossens wound up with the Fire was a situation of who you know. Goossens' agent already knew Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez. They got in touch and Rodriguez asked for Goossens to come in on trial.

“I would love to tell you it was the work of brilliant scouting, but candidly it wasn’t," Rodriguez said. "It was more a product of having good relations of people who know me and know [coach Veljko Paunovic] who believe that John’s style would fit with what we are trying to do."

Goossens had been with FC Voluntari in Romania. He played the full 90 minutes in Voluntari's final match before the league's winter break on Dec. 21. He was out of contract in early January. He went back home and within two weeks the Fire called to offer the trial.

Along with Kappelhof, who is likely to start at center back in Sunday's season opener, Goossens appears to be a key addition to the Fire.

“His talent, his understanding of the game and his ability of scoring goals, assisting... it’s something that we need for this team," Paunovic said. "We saw in the games that he played that he can play in different systems, different positions. It’s a great addition for us."

Rodriguez wasn't just impressed with his on-field talent either.

"I must say John is an incredible professional," Rodriguez said. "He gets off the plane from traveling all night and Pauno says to him, ‘Would you like a day or two to rest, acclimate to the time zone and get ready?’ He said, ‘No sir, I came here to win a job.’ He did.”

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.