Fire crush 10-man Impact, remain unbeaten against Eastern Conference


Fire crush 10-man Impact, remain unbeaten against Eastern Conference

As the rain pummeled Toyota Park on Saturday night, the Fire produced a laudable home performance in front of a mettlesome crowd of 15,256.

Behind an upper-90 strike from Harry Shipp in the 13th minute, a Jeff Larentowicz penalty kick on the stroke of halftime and Kennedy Igboananike’s first Fire goal, the Men in Red cogently beat 10-man Montreal Impact, 3-0, to grab their fourth win of the season.

“From our side of things, a very good home win,” head coach Frank Yallop said in his post-match press conference. “It’s always good to get three points out of a game like this when we dominated the match. I thought we just did a good job of everything tonight — the spirit, the will to win."

The onslaught was catalyzed early on as David Accam’s speed set the tempo. The designated player took matters into his own hands and ran at a rickety Impact back four, forcing converted right back and captain Nigel Reo-Coker into a mistimed tackle and a third-minute yellow card from referee Allen Chapman to match it.

[MORE FIRE: Shaun Maloney called up to Scotland, will miss trio of Fire matches]

With Joevin Jones’s tenacious running from his left back position causing problems early on, the Trinidadian joined Kennedy Igboananike, Accam and Shipp in the attack as the Impact were left chasing shadows.

“I was going to throw a lifejacket over to the left side in the first half,” Yallop said. “It was really wet, and the water was spraying up (from the grass).

“I think JJ has been excellent. David is electric; he’s still got a little bit of an ankle problem and his hamstrings are a bit tight, that’s the reason I took him out to rest him for Wednesday. They’ve got a good combination between them." 

The Fire, who did well to keep Montreal’s attack at bay, applied relentless pressure that eventually paid off. In the 13th minute, Igboananike stripped former Fire defender Bakary Soumare and threaded a ball into the path of an onrushing Shipp, who buried a left-footed effort into the upper-90 to give Yallop’s side a deserved advantage.

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In the 37th minute, the Impact were reduced to 10 men following a pair of late tackles from Impact midfielder Marco Donadel on Eric Gehrig and rookie Matt Polster, both of which were deemed bookable offenses.

The Impact’s defensive lapses were compounded a minute before halftime, with Soumare at fault once more. The Malian took Accam’s legs out in the penalty area, leaving Chapman no choice but to award a spot kick. Another cooly dispatched Larentowicz effort gave the Men in Red a favorable halftime lead.

After emerging from the break following a one-sided first half, the second half was a much more muffled affair as Frank Klopas’ outfit looked to quell the damage sustained in the opening 45 minutes.

That damage was only made worse as a knifing through ball from Razvan Cocis to a galloping Igboananike left the Nigerian through on goal with only ‘keeper Evan Bush to beat. A collected finish, however, put the icing on top of the cake on an impeccable home showing.

The victory moved the Fire up to eighth place in the Eastern Conference on 14 points, a vital step as the Men in Red turn the page and look forward to a midweek fixture against D.C. United.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-2-3-1): Jon Busch; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Joevin Jones; Matt Polster (Guly do Prado, 80'), Razvan Cocis; Harry Shipp, Shaun Maloney, David Accam (Quincy Amarikwa, 66'); Kennedy Igboananike (Jason Johnson, 75').

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.