Fire

Fire excited to get a win for fans in home finale after disappointing season

Fire excited to get a win for fans in home finale after disappointing season

Coach Veljko Paunovic had urged his team to get one final home win for the fans to close out the 2016 Chicago Fire home schedule.

He got his wish.

The Fire came roaring out of the gates with an early goal from Michael de Leeuw, but needed a David Accam goal in the 80th minute to secure a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution on Sunday.

"I know it was a hard season for everyone, but at least we could grant them this good win," Paunovic said.

De Leeuw got things to started early with a goal similar to all of his other goals with the Fire (7-16-10, 31 points). The 30-year-old Dutch forward scored on a first-touch shot from inside the 6-yard box after a low cross from Brandon Vincent in the ninth minute.

New England (10-14-9, 39 points) tied things up when Diego Fagundez cleaned up some scraps by running onto a loose ball and tucking it past Sean Johnson just before halftime.

The second half got a bit weird with red cards for both teams. First, Fire forward Luis Solignac intentionally tripped London Woodberry in the 54th minute and was sent off. His suspension for the final regular season match at Toronto means Solignac’s season is done.

Then, nearly 20 minutes later New England goalkeeper Brad Knighton was given a red card. David Accam surprised Knighton after he went to kick a ball upfield. Knighton then tackled Accam in an effort to regain possession.

Accam would later get the game-winner when he ran down a Jonathan Campbell longball and converted the breakaway.

"The fans deserve much more than what we have given them this season," Accam said. "Today it was all about the fans, about us giving everything we have on the pitch for the fans. I think that’s what we showed today. We went to win it for the fans and we did that.”

Winning for the fans was the theme after the match. Paunovic and the players talked candidly about how disappointing the season has been. Ending the home portion of the schedule on a high note was something to give back to the fans who have endured a sixth year out of seven with no playoffs.

"To be completely honest with you it hasn’t been a great season from the standpoint of results so I think to come here and finish our last game here on a positive note and give the fans something is good," midfielder Matt Polster said.

“I think it means a lot," de Leeuw said. "We all knew how the season went and we just wanted to give something to the fans."

The loss virtually eliminated New England from playoff contention, barring the Revolution making up a 13 goal differential on Philadelphia in the final week. The Fire had lost all three previous meetings with the Revolution this season, including a U.S. Open Cup semifinal in August.

The win ensured the Fire will improve upon last season's point total. The 2015 Fire finished with 30 points, the worst in the history of the club. At 31 points, this year's group has barely passed that with one game left. The Fire also still have a chance to move out of last place. The win moved the Fire within two points of Houston.

The Fire close out the season next Sunday at Toronto.

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.