Fire

Fire continue road trip in New England

Fire continue road trip in New England

The Chicago Fire are in a familiar position: last in the Eastern Conference.

After losing on a late bicycle kick by Blas Perez in Vancouver on Wednesday, the Fire fell to 1-3-4 (7 points) on the season. That is the lowest point total in the league and only Houston (2-6-2, 8 points) has fewer points per game. The Fire are actually two points behind last year's pace, which was 3-5 through its first eight matches.

One of the teams near the bottom of the standings with the Fire is Saturday's opponent, the New England Revolution (1-3-7, 10 points). The Revolution host the Fire on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on CSN Chicago with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Saturday could finally mark the return of David Accam. Accam has been out since the second match of the season with a knee sprain. He tallied two goals and an assist in his two games and the Fire have scored four goals in the six games he has missed.

"He'll be available for the next game and we'll see how many minutes he can play," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said after the game in Vancouver.

Also, midfielder Khaly Thiam could make his debut Saturday. Thiam, who signed with the team just over a week ago, did not travel to Canada due to visa issues, but is with the team in Foxborough, Mass.

To round out the injury report, John Goossens is still out due to a sprained LCL and Collin Fernandez, who subbed on in the 85th minute in Vancouver, is questionable after suffering a sprained ankle.

For New England the big story is the trade for Kei Kamara. Kamara, who scored 22 goals last season to share the league lead with Sebastian Giovinco, was traded by the Columbus Crew just before the league's first trade deadline passed at the end of the day Wednesday. Kamara had been suspended a game by the Crew after comments made after the team's 4-4 draw against Montreal on May 7 and trade talks quickly heated up.

The Fire saw Kamara on March 19 when he was still with the Crew. It was a goalless draw. Kamara had five goals in nine starts with Columbus. How much he will play Saturday is up in the air considering he just flew into Boston on Thursday, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come off the bench.

While Kamara can help the Revs' attack, it is the team's defense that probably needs the most improvement. New England is tied with Portland for the most goals allowed in the league at 20. The Fire have allowed half that number in three fewer matches.

New England enters Saturday's match with a number of injuries. Forward Charlie Davies is out for the third straight match with an abductor strain. Left back Chris Tierney has missed the past three matches with a hamstring injury and is questionable. Tierney's backup, Donnie Smith, is out due to a hamstring. Hamstrings are apparently a problem in New England because forward Teal Bunbury is also questionable with a bad hamstring.

Chicago Fire at New England Revolution

When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

TV: CSN Chicago

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

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.