Fire battle second-place New England in Foxborough


Fire battle second-place New England in Foxborough

The last time the Chicago Fire bagged a victory at Gillette Stadium, a third-minute goal by Quincy Amarikwa - his sixth of the season - and Sean Johnson's 84th-minute save to deny Chris Tierney on a penalty kick secured all three points for the visitors in a 1-0 win on July 12, 2014. Since then, the Men in Red have yet to walk away victorious on their travels, a dry spell spanning 14 MLS regular season matches.

With two games in hand on their longtime Eastern Conference rival, the result will surely be etched in the minds of the nine current Men in Red who played their part as the Fire travel to Foxborough to face 2014 MLS Cup finalist New England Revolution. Saturday's regular-season meeting (6:30 p.m. CT on CSN) will mark the 50th all-time between the sides.  

While New England aims to regroup following a late 2-0 collapse against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park, Frank Yallop is hoping to keep his players on an even keel after throwing away a 2-1 lead last Saturday, falling 3-2 at the hands of Orlando City SC.

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"We were all shocked last week where I felt we should have won the game," said Yallop after training Thursday. "Two (losses) in a row, but every team is in the same boat in our league; no one's running away with it. 

"We've got a couple of games in hand on the teams ahead of us. We've just got to start to realize that we can win games; we've played well enough to win. It's pretty close, and I've liked what I've seen going forward. It's just the individual and collective things late in games that's really hurt us."

Three of the previous five matches have seen the ninth-placed Fire squander leads, dating back to late drama in the 2-2 draw versus New York City FC in the Bronx on May 15. The latest two-game stretch that's seen the Men in Red come up empty-handed involved shipping a combined six goals at D.C. United and at home to Orlando.

As David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike continue to hit form - accounting for five of the Men in Red's eight goals in the previous four matches - the materialization and potency of Yallop's strikeforce is reverberating through the league as MLS sides struggle to keep the Designated Players' pace in check. But with a fixture against Jay Heaps' outfit looming and the danger posed by Teal Bunbury, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo, the second-year head coach is calling for more solidarity and coherence on the defensive front.    

[MORE FIRE: Accam, Jones called up to Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago]

"They have a lot of movement in their team; they don't really have static players, so we've got to stay in our good team shape," Yallop said. "If we could have put a couple of halves together in our away performances - D.C., New York and Columbus in the second half - we'd be fine. But we've got to put 90 minutes together and that's the hard part. It's similar to hockey: you play well in the first period, but it doesn't really matter. You've got to play well for three periods and it's the same with soccer: two halves.  

"We have to have good shape because they are a good side and they create chances. We've got to be disciplined, be in good shape and make sure we defend correctly as a unit, everybody from the forwards to the goalkeeper."

Without Accam (Ghana), Shaun Maloney (Scotland) and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) - all away on international duty - the defensive and attacking onus will rest on the shoulders of some new faces as the Fire seek to dissolve the Revolution's unbeaten record at home. Despite going winless in their last six matches, New England hasn't lost at Gillette Stadium since last July.

"There will be some guys that haven't played for a little bit playing (on Saturday)," Yallop added. "You've got to keep the majority of the team that's done well for you. In performances, you don't change everybody because we've conceded a couple of goals that have been - if you look at the goals we have conceded over the last four or five games - not just because of one guy. It's been a combination of things.

"We've just got to keep going, stay positive, and turn it around. We're still right there in the hunt. It's a big game on Saturday and we're looking forward to it."        

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.