Fire

Fire alarmed by defeat in USOC semifinal: 'We were outplayed'

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Fire alarmed by defeat in USOC semifinal: 'We were outplayed'

A second-half goal from Sébastien Le Toux - backed by a commanding, collective display - was enough to see the Philadelphia Union past the Fire, 1-0, in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal at PPL Park Wednesday night, effectively eliminating the Men in Red from the 102nd edition of the tournament.  

"It was very disappointing," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "Aside from a couple spells in the first half and spaced out through the game, we were outplayed tonight; which is alarming. We needed to get up for the game. Our training has been good and we talked about [winning this game]. You've got to go out and perform and give everything you have, and it didn't seem like we did that. To put in a performance like that in a semifinal is not good."

After experiencing a 1-0 loss at the Portland Timbers in MLS regular season play last Friday, Yallop opted to make one change, giving Gilberto - filling in for Jason Johnson - his first start since signing on as the club's third Designated Player during the summer transfer window. The Brazilian - deemed fit and in good condition prior to kickoff - was forced off in the 21st minute, however, with what was confirmed as a right thigh contusion, a low blow as the Fire lacked a substantial attacking dimension on their way toward logging their 20th road loss in all competitions dating back to July 2014.  

A somewhat frantic start to the match saw both sides feel each other out before establishing any sort of concrete possession, with the Union thoroughly dominating first half proceedings. Jim Curtin's side posted seven shots on goal and 16 crosses, forcing a back four comprised of Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz and Joevin Jones to string 22 clearances together in a predominantly defensive outing. 

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Midfielder Cristián Maidana was at the heart of several of the host's moves, forcing an early, but comfortable save from Sean Johnson in the eighth minute with a left-footed curler. 

The Argentine's presence was felt again, cutting inside on a static David Accam and firing a low shot away, which was tipped off the post by Johnson and spit out to C.J. Sapong, whose follow-up hit the outside of the net in the 24th minute. Johnson up to the task again two minutes later, this time denying Brian Carroll as the Fire continued to live dangerously and invite pressure.

In the 37th minute, Le Toux’s sliding cross made its way to Sapong, whose complicated attempt at a backheel flick to beat Johnson inside the six-yard box escaped him. On the stroke of halftime, the visitors aimed to hit back through Accam, who sped past Union defender Richie Marquez and burst through on goal, drawing a kick save from 'keeper John McCarthy at the near post to close out a largely forgettable first half for the Fire.

[RELATED: Fire 'primed and ready' for 'massive' USOC semifinal vs. Union]

The second 45 saw Yallop's men show a little more verve, matching the Union in possession stats, but ultimately not doing enough to ruffle the hosts as the Union - after whittling away at the Fire back line - found their match-winner in the 74th minute.

After sidestepping a few defenders, Le Toux collected a loose ball at the top of the 18 and planted a left-footed strike off the right post and in to seal the Union's berth to the final hurdle: the club's second consecutive appearance in the Open Cup final.

While the Men in Red look to overcome Wednesday night's defeat, it's all to play for in regular season action as both sides butt heads at PPL Park Sunday night.

"Our guys are devastated with the result, but we need to get ourselves ready for Sunday," Yallop added. "Sunday's going to come quickly so we need to get ready for that and pick the bones out of this one, because it wasn't good." 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Razvan Cocis, Matt Polster (Mike Magee, 77'), David Accam (Jason Johnson, 58'); Shaun Maloney; Gilberto (Kennedy Igboananike, 21')

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.