Fire

Fire adjust to demands of altered approach vs. FC Dallas

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Fire adjust to demands of altered approach vs. FC Dallas

A new beginning or another false start?

With their second win over a Western Conference opponent in 22 days, the Fire roused a crowd of 14,209 Sunday night with a 2-0 victory over an FC Dallas outfit that saw the potential of the visitors' sixth consecutive league triumph – a club-record winning streak – snapped by a committed, loyal and collective effort from the Men in Red.

From front to back, head coach Frank Yallop’s starting lineup cooperated with a ‘different’ tactical approach. The positional flexibility and matureness from Designated Players David Accam and Shaun Maloney – who provided both goals on the night – shed light on a group of players that, little by little, is making strides toward grasping the philosophy and style of play.

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“The big thing is, you saw a team last night that wasn’t fighting against what we were trying to do,” Yallop told reporters Monday via teleconference. “It’s a team game; it’s not an individual game. If we ask Shaun to do a little bit more extra work, he was fine with it. Does he want to play a different position to be a bit more attacking? Maybe, but in the end, hard work, endeavor and fight won that game last night. And, tactically, catching them like we did worked.”

Despite being thoroughly out possessed and out passed, the Fire’s unrelenting drive to refuse to sit back and conversely push on for another goal paid dividends. Refreshed by an eight-day break and the return of Jeff Larentowicz to the back line, the Fire refused to sit on their propitious 1-0 lead, bucking the trend of last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution.

After keeping a red-hot Dallas and the likes of Mauro Díaz, Fabián Castillo, Michael Barrios and David Texeira at bay, the question lingers as to whether this performance can be reproduced in four days time. While the tactics on display against Óscar Pareja’s side – favoring the counterattack as opposed to possession – were specific to the Dallas game, Friday night’s trip to face the Portland Timbers will truly show if the Men in Red can muster that same endeavor and grit to string consecutive wins together in regular season play for the first time since the three-match winning streak experienced from late March to mid April. 

[RELATED: Fire await Gilberto's arrival, admit more dealings in the works]

“Dallas are a side that likes to manipulate the ball on the edge of the box, and we wanted to counterattack them and try to catch them, which we did,” Yallop added. “Having David in that role was good, it frees him up to better explode into those areas and do well.

“Shaun did a great job defensively behind on that left side to support David. We may play David in that spot again if we feel a team is going to be pushing and we can catch them on the counter.”

The trip to the Pacific Northwest could see Ty Harden and newly acquired Designated Player Gilberto enter the fold. 

After dealing with niggling hamstring issues upon signing with the team, Harden will be available for the trip. Gilberto, meanwhile, is expected to get his visa soon to hopefully be able to join the Fire in Portland on Friday, which would present another dilemma for Yallop in team selection should the Brazilian's fitness be up to snuff. Lovel Palmer, who left Sunday's game in the 68th minute with a sore knee, is expected to be a feature in the squad. Mike Magee is a risk, however, as the 2013 MLS MVP did not train on Monday.

NOTE: Eric Gehrig and Matt Polster were named to the MLS Team of the Week for Week 22, the league announced Monday. Sean Johnson was named to the bench. 

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.