Early goal sends Fire to sixth straight road loss

Early goal sends Fire to sixth straight road loss

Any optimism the Chicago Fire may have had entering Saturday's match in Toronto was quickly wiped away.

The hosts dominated the first 15 minutes of the match, pressing hard and creating plenty of chances. When Justin Morrow scored in the ninth minute, it was a familiar feeling on the road for the Fire.

The Fire could not recover from the early deficit and lost 1-0. It marked the sixth straight road loss and a 33rd straight match without a win for the Fire.

Before the match, there was genuine reason to think the Fire (3-8-5, 14 points) could get a result. Toronto (6-6-5, 23 points) was riddled with injuries to key players while the Fire are as healthy as they've been all season and had won their previous two matches. However, both of those wins came at Toyota Park.

Whatever the reason, the Fire can't shake this road skid. Major League Soccer is a tough league to play in on the road. The Fire are one of five teams winless on the road this season and another six teams have just one road win in 2016.

Toronto outshot the Fire 25-11 (6-2 on target), which was a fair indication of how one-sided the match was. The Fire had stretches of possession towards the end of the first half, but rarely broke down Toronto's defense.

In the second half, Michael de Leeuw replaced Michael Stephens to make his Fire debut. The Dutch forward was up top in a 4-2-3-1 formation with David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and John Goossens (later replaced by Arturo Alvarez) sitting just underneath him. De Leeuw was not able to make a big impact in the match.

Igboananike had the Fire's best chance of the match. In the 64th minute, he chased down a long ball in the left corner, cut inside onto his right foot and rifled a shot off the crossbar.

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Coach Veljko Paunovic went with the same starting lineup as he did in the 1-0 win against San Jose last weekend. Alvarez and de Leeuw were additions on the bench and both came on as substitutes.

Matt Polster, who is still on his way back from a concussion, was not on the bench. Paunovic and the Fire are giving Polster more time to recover his health and fitness. He had been a regular participant in training this week.

The Fire return home to face Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.

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.