Fire

Fire eager to return after bye week

Fire eager to return after bye week

After losing to Montreal on April 16, the Chicago Fire had a bye week, which meant the team had to stew in that home defeat seven extra days.

Now the team is preparing to take on D.C. United on Saturday at Toyota Park. The team is back to a regular week of practice, but the extra wait after a loss is something the team has had to endure.

“After we lost our game against Montreal, you wanted the next game as soon as possible, but also we believe that we have to be patient," Paunovic said in his weekly conference call with the media on Monday. "We have to understand that we have a possibility to work for two weeks like we did, we have to take advantage of it.

"It’s always helpful when you have two weeks to prepare for the next game and recover and think about down the line and everything necessary in order to be better prepared for the next game after you lose a game. At the same time the guys who like to compete, and I think I am one of them and also in the locker room, we have a lot of guys who are impatient about next game, which is good. I like that very much because they want that payback. They want to show that we can be better."

One of the players who is certainly eager to get back to game action, but hasn't been able to do so for weeks, is David Accam. Without any game action to talk about, Paunovic's weekly David Accam injury update became a focal point of the conference call. For the first time in a few weeks, Paunovic finally sounded more optimistic about Accam, but also downplayed the chances of him coming back against D.C.

“The good news is he is progressing," Paunovic said. "He is at least feeling less pain and it is very located, which is good news. Having a meeting this morning with our doctors, they feel very comfortable with how he is improving and we will see. I don’t know for this game, but in the next couple of weeks we believe that David can be good to go.”

Accam has been in the Fire locker room after home matches while being out with injury and the usually jovial Accam at times looked like a kid who couldn't play in the park with his friends. Paunovic talked about Accam's mentality and gave a bit more detail about the ligament injury.

“He understands that he has to do his treatment and keep his emotions under control and not get frustrated," Paunovic said of Accam. "So far I believe everything in the process of recovery has been the natural process of a ligament injury where you need 6-8 weeks. Right now we are at six weeks. Six weeks of natural recovery helping the treatment with everything he is doing so far. I think we have to understand it’s not a minor injury and we have to be very, very smart in our approach to how we are going through this process of his recovery. He of course would like as quickly as possible to come back, but he is also very smart in how he is managing that excitement and desire to come back and start playing as soon as possible and help the team.

“We have to understand that we don’t want to make this injury worse.”

In addition to being given the OK from the Fire's medical staff, Accam will have to regain fitness after not being able to play. He has been able to be a partial participant in some practices during the injury so he won't be starting from scratch, but getting Accam back up to 90-minute fitness might take an additional week or two.

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.