Early second-half goal sees Fire fall on the road to Timbers


Early second-half goal sees Fire fall on the road to Timbers

On the road and in a hostile environment, the Chicago Fire slipped to their 12th defeat of the season, falling to the Portland Timbers, 1-0, Friday night.

A redirected shot from close range from forward Fanendo Adi three minutes into the second half propelled Caleb Porter's side to its 10th victory of 2015. Meanwhile, the Fire's winless streak in league play on their travels extended to 18 matches, leaving them stranded in ninth place on 22 points in the Eastern Conference standings.

"It’s kind of one of those plays, I think everyone is in pretty good spots and it just kind of ricocheted straight to them and it just hits him and goes in," head coach Frank Yallop said after the match. "Our final pass just wasn’t quite there, but in general I thought we defended well against a team that’s difficult to play against, especially on this surface at home.”  

Yallop trotted out the same group that downed FC Dallas, 2-0, on Sunday. It was the first time since May 22 (vs. Columbus Crew SC) and May 30 (vs. Montreal Impact) that the second-year head coach elected to dish out identical starting lineups in back-to-back matches.

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Both sides struggled to muster anything worth noting in the opening stages, engaging in a sloppy and scoreless first half at Providence Park. Harry Shipp's right-footed curler at the 15-minute mark, along with a blunder from Portland 'keeper Adam Kwarasey that nearly gifted Jason Johnson an open-netter in the 33rd minute were the only meaningful chances of note for the visitors.   

Portland's Rodney Wallace and Fanendo Adi hit the back of the net twice in two minutes, but both efforts were ruled out for offside after the midfielder and forward streaked in behind the Fire defense.

Despite playing a high defensive line and leaving themselves exposed at the back at times - while having to cope with Designated Player David Accam's premature exit in the 43rd minute with groin tightness - the Men in Red limited the hosts to not a single shot on target through the opening 45 minutes.

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Commended for weathering the first-half storm, the Fire found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline in the 48th minute. Diego Valeri's deflected cross from the right flank wasn't dealt with properly, with the back line looking on as Sean Johnson's punch met Adi, who poked home to give the hosts a favorable advantage.  

The Fire grew into the game gradually as the half wore on, carving out a decent opportunity in the 72nd minute via second-half substitute Kennedy Igboananike. A free kick from Shaun Maloney met the Nigerian in the box, whose header trickled just wide of Kwarasey's left post.

With Igboananike and Maloney combining four minutes from time - the Nigerian controlling and teeing up the Scotsman for a one-timer at the edge of the area - Maloney's shot went wide of Kwarasey's frame, signaling the end to a forgettable night for the Men in Red in the Pacific Northwest.

Next up is a pivotal and potentially season-defining Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal bout with the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.

"We got one more hurdle to get through to be in the final and there is no better time to go now and on a Wednesday night to go and try to do that," Yallop added. "We’re excited. We have to let this one go because I spoke to the guys today and they gave me everything they had. I thought the effort was fantastic. I thought we tried hard and gave 100 percent, we just didn’t quite get it done tonight, but we’re going to now focus on Wednesday and try to get a result there.”

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis, Shaun Maloney; David Accam (Patrick Nyarko, 43'); Jason Johnson (Kennedy Igboananike, 68').

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.