Fire

Fire add Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam

Fire add Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam

After stuttering through the first seven matches of the season, reinforcements are on the way for the Chicago Fire.

Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam will join the team later this week on a loan deal with an option to buy. The move is pending league approval although the official announcement is expected soon.

The deal was in the works more than a month ago, but Thiam needed to finish his season with Hungarian team MTK Budapest before joining the Fire. MTK wrapped up its season on Saturday and finished fourth in the Hungarian league, losing out on a Europa League berth on the final match of the season.

“He is going to join us this week," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said during his weekly conference call. "He is going to do physical and medicals. He’ll be here and he’s very important for us. We believe the addition of Thiam is very important to increase our competitiveness with all his qualities, especially he is very good on the ball. He is very good also in aerial duels and his presence on the field is very important. With him we will increase our competitiveness in the team and of course within the league.”

The Fire can use the help immediately after having four players miss out on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United due to injury. David Accam is expected to be available against Vancouver on May 11, but odds are he won’t be able to start, especially on a turf field. Matt Polster, John Goossens and Alex Morrell were also out injured against D.C.

Thiam, 22, is a box-to-box midfielder who on paper would seem like a good fit to line up next to Polster as one of the two central mids in Paunovic’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This season for MTK, Thiam made 31 appearances, 27 starts, and scored two goals.

“He can play in different positions in the midfield," Paunovic said. "He can play in different systems. So far we were using 4-2-3-1 as our basic system, standard. In that system he can play either together with another midfielder (or in other roles). He’s going to increase that competitiveness. We can also switch to a 4-3-3, 3-5-2. Being adaptable he can play in different systems and roles, that’s something we value a lot."

He started his professional career in Hungary, playing the past four seasons in that league. He totaled 72 appearances and seven goals in that time.

Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez played in Hungary before joining the Fire this offseason. A few weeks ago when the rumors started swirling, Alvarez was asked if he had heard of him. For what it's worth, Alvarez recalled him right away and described Thiam as a nice player, who was "tidy" on the ball.

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.