Fire

Fire done in by first-minute goal, fall to Rapids

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Fire done in by first-minute goal, fall to Rapids

On the back of a captivating 3-3 draw at the Philadelphia Union last weekend, an early lapse in concentration was all it took to see the Fire slip to their 13th loss of the 2015 campaign.

A nightmare start, which saw the visiting Colorado Rapids execute and convert a sublime counter attack, sunk the Men in Red, 1-0, in front of 18,317 at Toyota Park Saturday night.

Combination play from Kevin Doyle and Gabriel Torres down the left flank was capped off by Dillon Serna, who finished with ease at the back post to give Pablo Mastroeni's side their first win on their travels against an Eastern Conference team this season, while the Fire were left to rue another poor and lethargic beginning to the match that confined them to the bottom of the standings.

"Seems like every team that plays against us has not as many chances as we create or get and seems to score goals, so we’ve looked at it, we working on it, we talk about it the whole time," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "I’ve been in this game a long time and sometimes you keep trying to put your finger on it and you can’t kind of figure it out."

[RELATED: Fire hope 'fantastic fightback' at Union carries over vs. Rapids]

Yallop trotted out four changes with rookie Matt Polster replacing Lovel Palmer at right back, and Matt Watson and Harry Shipp standing in for Razvan Cocis and Jason Johnson, respectively. Meanwhile, David Accam, who looked on from the bench at PPL Park, made his return to the side and succeeded Shaun Maloney, whose transfer to English Championship side Hull City is expected to be completed early next week.  

Seeking to make amends for the early blip, it was Patrick Nyarko and Joevin Jones who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the 13th minute, combining down the left side. Jones' cross skipped to the back post to Accam, whose scuffed effort was palmed aside by Rapids 'keeper Clint Irwin, a common theme as the visitors rode their luck throughout the night on the heels of a defensive, yet solid performance.

A lively Accam - making his return to the lineup after being rested the previous match - produced a string of threatening chances on the night, but failed to muster enough to beat an alert Irwin.  

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The Fire - despite holding a commanding edge in possession (68 percent) and total shots (20) on the night - couldn't break through a staunch Rapids back four, which similarly stood up to the task with conviction in the second stanza.

Second-half substitute Gilberto nearly found an equalizer for the hosts two minutes into stoppage time, but his effort chimed the woodwork, calling an end to another frustrating night in Bridgeview. 

"Tonight was a big game for us that if we could’ve won this one it would’ve helped us and obviously not winning it," Yallop added. "Again it’s about us, we got to keep going and keep battling on through. It’s nice to see some of our guys on the field; Gilberto and I think Kennedy [Igboananike] looked sharp tonight, but obviously we just didn’t get that goal we needed.”

Next up for the Men in Red is the first of 10 remaining fixtures against Eastern Conference opponents, which sees Jesse Marsch's New York Red Bulls march into Toyota Park on Wednesday night.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Gilberto, 63'), Matt Watson (Jason Johnson, 69'), Michael Stephens, David Accam; Harry Shipp (Mike Magee, 85'); Kennedy Igboananike.

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.