Fire

Fire face Sporting Kansas City in 50th all-time meeting

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Fire face Sporting Kansas City in 50th all-time meeting

Reeling from a third consecutive win, the Chicago Fire finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Sporting Kansas City can say the same, having re-joined Major League Soccer's Western Conference this season.

After securing home wins against the Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC and New York City FC, the Men in Red boast the longest active winning streak in the league and a three-match spate last encountered 19 months ago.

On Sunday, Frank Yallop & Co. will have one chance to put it on the line against Peter Vermes' side, which, for the last decade, has been a regular fixture for the Fire in seasons past. A recent conference realignment saw Sporting KC and the Houston Dynamo make way for expansion sides NYCFC and Orlando City SC in the East, meaning Sunday's nationally televised match at Sporting Park will mark the lone meeting between the two teams in 2015.  

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The Men in Red approach their 50th all-time meeting with Sporting KC -- formerly the Kansas City Wizards -- possessing a commanding 25-13-11 record, but are 8-9-9 on their travels. Despite comparatively going winless in their first three matches, Sporting KC are unbeaten at home and have not lost to the Fire at home since June 2012.

Both sides will be without the services of Matt Watson and Servando Carrasco, who will serve a one-game suspension on Sunday following a decision by the league's Disciplinary Committee this week. 

However, with a Man of the Match performance from David Accam and a virtually flawless defensive display in the Fire's most recent MLS outing, Yallop's side dispelled any doubts of rust following the 20-day layoff.

"We got a lot fitter, I thought we were really on task the whole game, pressed the whole game," he said after the match. "We did all the right things, and that comes from fitness and the great job that our coaching staff did over the three weeks."

Still, Yallop, while pleased with the overall attacking play, cited the lack of a finishing touch against NYCFC. The Fire finished the match with 24 shots, only seven of which were on target.

“I wouldn’t call them problems, just the final little bit of guile will come with a bit more play and bit more confidence," Yallop said after the match.

[MORE FIRE: Watson suspended, fined for foul play vs. NYCFC]

Though the Men in Red have six different goalscorers this season, none of their designated strikers have found the back of the net, a minor quibble in an otherwise burgeoning attack.

On the back of a 4-4 draw at the Dynamo, Sporting KC, on the other hand, is finding success through alternative avenues as forward Dom Dwyer continues to regain the groove that saw him net 22 goals last season, three of which came in all three fixtures against the Fire. Having played every minute of every match this season, Dwyer will prove to be a handful for the Men in Red, as the former South Florida Bull leads MLS with 26 fouls suffered and has had four goals disallowed for straying offside.

Meanwhile, Hungarian winger Krisztian Nemeth's team-high of three goals may just be taking some of the pressure off of Dwyer, who was far and away Sporting KC's go-to player in 2014. Contributions from Sean Maloney's former Wigan Athletic teammate in Roger Espinoza and Benny Feilhaber have supplemented their attack as well.

Feilhaber -- the MLS Player of the Month nominee -- leads the league with five assists and notched two goals against the Dynamo, with his game-tying strike earning MLS Goal of the Week honors for week eight.

With both sides' individual players discovering their form and adjusting to the hustle and bustle of the MLS regular season, the Fire's mettle and three-match league win streak will be put to the test in its first road trip since slipping to the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy in March. So, what's at stake?

The Men in Red last won four consecutive league games during a 20-day stretch in September 2012, taking down the Dynamo, Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew SC and Toronto in the process. Should they come away with three points against Vermes' outfit, a first win on their travels in 10 previous attempts will only breed more confidence ahead of a busy month that, after Sunday, includes four games in three weeks.

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.