Fire

Fire fall behind early and lose at Real Salt Lake

Fire fall behind early and lose at Real Salt Lake

Looking to keep key players fresh ahead of Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal in New England, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic made a number of changes to his lineup Saturday at Real Salt Lake.

Considering the Fire's lineup, the team's league-record road winless streak and that RSL is undefeated at home this season, the result went as expected. The hosts won 3-1.

Olmes Garcia and Javier Morales scored inside the first half hour and RSL (10-7-7, 37 points) cruised to an easy home win. Garcia scored in the 14th minute on what appeared to be a saveable low shot, but Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson got wrong-footed. Morales had the assist on the goal and later scored via a penalty kick in the 29th minute. Juan Martinez controlled a ball in the box and Eric Gehrig charged into him without being near the ball for the penalty.

The Fire (4-11-6, 18 points) got one back when Arturo Alvarez volleyed in a Nick LaBrocca cross in the 58th minute. It was Alvarez's third goal of the season.

However, the two-goal lead was quickly restored. Morales scored his second of the match by pinging one in off the post just six minutes after Alvarez got the Fire back in the match.

With an eye on Tuesday's big game, the Fire made seven changes from the starting lineup that played to a 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. Two of those changes were forced due to Joao Meira's injury and Khaly Thiam's suspension. Johan Kappelhof, Rodrigo Ramos, Sean Johnson and John Goossens moved to the bench. Matt Polster was not even on the bench.

Gehrig, who made his second start of the season, was one of the replacements. Lampson, Brandon Vincent, Michael Stephens, Nick LaBrocca and Jonathan Campbell also returned to the lineup.

Luis Solignac, the Argentine forward the Fire traded for on Wednesday, started despite not meeting his teammates until they landed in Salt Lake on Friday. Solignac had a couple notable plays in the early minutes, including a nice one-two with Michael de Leeuw, but the Fire attack didn't pressure RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando until late in the match.

Rimando set a new MLS record for the most wins by a goalkeeper. This was Rimando's 181st win in goal, breaking Kevin Hartman's record.

Michael de Leeuw and David Accam both subbed off at halftime with the Fire trailing by two goals. Alvarez subbed off in the 68th minute.

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.