Fire

Fire end losing skid, earn hard-fought point in Houston

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Fire end losing skid, earn hard-fought point in Houston

After a morale-boosting victory in their Round of 16 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against the Charlotte Independence on Tuesday, the Chicago Fire showed the resilience to come from behind once again. This time, it was Patrick Nyarko's 72nd-minute goal that helped the Men in Red salvage a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo Friday night.

"Great effort from our guys, really proud of the way they fought and battled against adversity with a few injuries here and there and a couple things going on, not having a full lineup," head coach Frank Yallop said following the match. "I’m proud of the way we played and getting a point here."

Frank Yallop made sweeping changes to the side that dispatched the third-division outfit three days earlier. Jeff Larentowicz, reported to be struggling with right groin tightness and subsequently left off Tuesday's team sheet, was replaced by Eric Gehrig. Half an hour before kickoff, the Fire announced Larentowicz would be out for two weeks with a herniated disc.

As a result, Matt Polster was restored to his tenured center midfield role, playing alongside Razvan Cocis, and flanked by Harry Shipp and Jason Johnson on the right and left wings, respectively. Meanwhile, Guly do Prado took the place of Mike Magee and partnered Kennedy Igboananike to lead the firing line.

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Despite a relatively uneventful first half, it was the Fire who nearly jumped out to an early lead. A Harry Shipp corner kick was met by Razvan Cocis in the fourth minute, with the Romanian's one-time effort hitting the underside of the crossbar and bouncing off the line, which multiple replays ruled to have not crossed the line. 

In the 13th minute, Houston spurned a golden opportunity to get on the front foot themselves, as Giles Barnes, blowing past Greg Cochrane down the right flank, bursted through in the box and slid a cross to the on-rushing Will Bruin, whose dismal shot from close range missed Johnson's frame completely as the Fire 'keeper breathed a sigh of relief.

The sides entered the break with not much to show for in the opening 45. Yallop elected to bring on Patrick Nyarko for Jason Johnson to start the second half, which became an open affair quite quickly.

[RELATED: Fire travel to face Dynamo in the Houston heat]

It was the Dynamo, however, who would strike first. After good interplay down the left side, Brad Davis provided a low cross across the goal mouth, with Bruin and Johnson vying for it. The ball squirted out the other side, allowing former Fire midfielder Alex to tap in unmarked at the back post in the 56th minute.

Three minutes later, Mike Magee entered the fray and found himself on the end of a delivery from Lovel Palmer immediately following his introduction, but his effort was well monitored by the Dynamo's Joe Willis. That chance was shortly followed up by a header from Nyarko in the 63rd minute, which skimmed the crossbar and left Yallop's group tantalizingly close to finding an equalizer.

In the 72nd minute, Nyarko was at last rewarded for his diligent work. The Ghanaian got on the end of a Greg Cochrane cross and collided with Willis in the process, but cleaned up the mess, notching his first goal in MLS play since May 10, 2014 to level the match at one apiece.

"Patrick had a big impact in the game on Tuesday—the cup game we had at home—and he comes and gets the tying goal here," Yallop added. "Just really pleased for him, it’s been a long road back. Him and Mike off the bench… it’s a long haul back from that type of injury so I’m very happy that they’re both on the field and contributing, doing well."

[MORE: Palmer hopes Fire can use Open Cup as "springboard" to MLS success]  

As the closing stages wound down, the West vs. East encounter produced end-to-end action, but ultimately left the cross-conference foes with even honors. With the result, the Fire still remain in last place in the Eastern Conference, with eight days' rest before returning to face the Seattle Sounders at Toyota Park. The Dynamo travel to the Bay Area to battle the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on July 10.
 
NOTE: Adaílton went down injured in the 71st minute of the game and was substituted by Chris Ritter. The Brazilian defender exited with a groin strain, according to a team official. His status for the Seattle game is TBD. 
 
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Adailton (Chris Ritter, 71'), Greg Cochrane; Harry Shipp, Razvan Cocis (C), Matt Polster, Jason Johnson (Patrick Nyarko, 46'); Guly do Prado, Kennedy Igboananike (Mike Magee, 59').

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.