Fire appear loaded with depth at outside back


Fire appear loaded with depth at outside back

Over and over again Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has harped on how center back has been the club’s priority this offseason.

However, outside back might be the position that has undergone the biggest overhaul for both the short-term and long-term future of the Fire.

From last year’s team, Lovel Palmer and Greg Cochrane had their options declined, Joevin Jones was traded and Eric Gehrig, who played some at right back last year, appears more destined to play at center back this season. Only Patrick Doody, who spent most of 2015 on loan with Saint Louis FC and made just seven appearances with the Fire as a rookie, is a returning outside back.

In this year’s draft, the Fire grabbed Stanford left back Brandon Vincent with the fourth pick. That meant competition for Doody, who showed promise at left back in his rookie season. When asked about the competition for playing time after training on Monday, Doody gave the politically correct answer that he would play wherever needed and explained he has played on the right.

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“I am left footed, but I have played both sides,” Doody said. “It’s the same position, it’s just inverted. I think most guys at this level should have the ability to play either. If you’re an outside back you should be able to do OK at each side.”

That versatility could come in handy for Doody, but there also appears to be a lot of competition at right back. Free agent signing Michael Harrington, another left-footed player, has experience playing at both outside back spots and is a nine-year league veteran. He figures to get plenty of playing time this season.

“Left or right,” Harrington said. “It doesn’t matter. Either one.”

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Third round pick Vincent Keller played center back and right back at Creighton, but is sliding over to right back as a pro because he is only 5-foot-9. It also appears that 2015 second round pick Kingsley Bryce is now a right back.

Bryce played forward in college at St. Louis University. Last year on loan with Saint Louis FC, Bryce played both midfield and defense. When asked what his position was on Monday Bryce answered without hesitation that he is a right back.

It’s not hard to see why the Fire could see the 22-year-old Bryce as a good option for right back. He’s 6-feet tall, fast and athletic at a position that requires tons of running up and down the sideline. At least physically, he seems capable of handling the demands of an outside back, but the position move isn’t an easy one.

“It’s tough,” Bryce said. “You have to learn to play where they need you. I’m still learning to play out of the back, but I think it helps that I know how to play forward so when I attack it’s something familiar to me.”

So, for now at least, it appears the Fire have five options at outside back. Harrington, 30, is the only veteran of the group, considering even Doody is still largely unproven.

Center back may be the club’s priority as far as acquiring new players, but outside back might be the most interesting competition in training camp.

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.