Fire

Fire draft day wrap: Jones, No. 1 pick traded for 3 rookies, allocation money

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Fire draft day wrap: Jones, No. 1 pick traded for 3 rookies, allocation money

The Chicago Fire were one of the most active teams on draft day, trading more than just the No. 1 overall pick.

The Fire made three trades during the MLS SuperDraft and wound up dealing away left back Joevin Jones, the top pick in the draft and the top spot in the player allocation order. In return the Fire ended up with allocation money from two different teams and three draft picks: Stanford left back Brandon Vincent (No. 4 pick), North Carolina center back Jonathan Campbell (No. 12) and North Florida midfielder Alex Morrell (No. 22).

Here’s a breakdown of the three trades:

Fire trade No. 1 pick Jack Harrison to New York City FC for the No. 4 pick and allocation money.

The Fire kicked off the day in seemingly normal fashion by selecting Wake Forest winger Jack Harrison No. 1. He stepped up to the podium in a Fire scarf while on national TV and spoke briefly. Just minutes later the traded was announced, but instead of naming Harrison, it was just a player to be named later. The Fire then selected Vincent at No. 4.

Vincent wasn’t in attendance in Baltimore because he was in camp with the U.S. Men’s National Team to train as part of the U-23 group ahead of the Olympic qualifying playoff in March. That camp includes new Fire teammates Sean Johnson and Matt Polster. Vincent already seemed to have a grasp of the club, mentioning honor and tradition and Section 8 without being prompted.

He spoke with general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic on his only day at the MLS Combine before being called into the national team camp.

“It seemed like we had a good back and forth and some good conversation that we both liked what each other were saying and had similar views going forward with the organization and how I could impact that,” Vincent said. “They had the mindset that they wanted to completely change the whole way the organization worked and change it to a winning culture. I was a part of that at Stanford and I want to do the same thing here.”

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Eventually it was revealed that Harrison was in fact headed to New York.

“The scenario that unfolded today was one that we foresaw, discussed and in essence tried to create alongside with NYCFC and we feel very, very good about it,” Rodriguez said. “We informed Jack Harrison and we informed his agent prior to the start of the draft that we saw a scenario where we would select Jack No. 1 and we might not retain him. In that instance we would move him only to NYCFC. We tried to be sensitive to a young man and his family.”

Fire trade Joevin Jones to Seattle for the No. 15 pick and allocation money.

While trading the top pick was not a surprise, this move was. Initially Jones wasn’t announced as part of the deal because the Fire wanted to contact Jones before announcing the trade. Soon after the draft Rodriguez confirmed the move, saying the team had been able to get in touch with Jones’ representation, but not the player himself yet.

While it is hard to evaluate the trade without knowing the amount of allocation money sent to the Fire, it does make sense that Jones was thought to be expendable after the Fire took Vincent, another left back.

“Joevin Jones is a player that was coveted by many teams around the league and over the course of the entire offseason there have been steady offers being made for his services,” Rodriguez said. “Through the combine and as we got closer to the draft those offers increased. It got to the point where the scenario that we thought could be viable. Securing Brandon Vincent would enable us to move Joevin’s services and in return get a draft pick that we felt we could convert into a player, which we did and again add more money to our allocation war chest. For us it was a natural flow of events, and part of things and part of scenarios that we had outlined prior to walking into the draft room today.”

Jones, 24, was one of three players on the Fire roster taking up an international slot. General manager Nelson Rodriguez had previously indicated that he expected the team’s eight slots to fill up this season, so that extra flexibility is another benefit of the trade for the Fire.

The Trinidad & Tobago international made 28 appearances, 26 of which were starts, in MLS play last season.

Fire trade the No. 15 pick, the No. 33 pick and the No. 1 spot in the player allocation order to Colorado for the No. 12 pick, the No. 22 pick and the No. 2 spot in the player allocation order.

This trade appears to be simply the Fire getting something out of nothing. The allocation order is only useful if you’re interested in the player that first becomes available. Colorado likely has a player in mind that the Fire may not have been interested in.

The Fire then drafted Campbell at No. 12 and Morrell at No. 22. Rodriguez asserted that he expects both players to compete for time and not be simply roster depth.

“We think Jonathan is a good player who could become a really good player,” Rodriguez said. “This is part of building a championship program when you can start to build succession planning. We believe that Jonathan gives us the opportunity to contribute right away, but at the same time learn from some of the players that we will bring in and learn from Pauno himself such that we’ll be very deep in that position for several years.”

Morrell is only 5-foot-7, but is known for his speed and athletic ability.

“Alex Morrell is a dynamite athlete and a very intelligent soccer player,” Rodriguez said. “He can play multiple positions. That versatility is very important to us as we build our adaptable style of play.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

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

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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.