Fire

Fire fall to D.C. at Toyota Park, lose fourth straight

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Fire fall to D.C. at Toyota Park, lose fourth straight

What began as another relatively stalwart defensive display from the Chicago Fire ended in a fourth straight defeat in MLS play, as Frank Yallop's side fell 1-0 to Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United Wednesday night in front of 11,833 at Toyota Park.

A rocket from Conor Doyle in the 73rd-minute secured a second win on the trot for the Men in Red's conference rival, as the Fire remained at the bottom of the standings.

"We should be good enough to win games," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "We work hard in the training field, the guys are committed it seems, you don’t know if it really is real deep within them, but I think it is. I have been around awhile, I kind of feel for the guys right now."

Yallop made a trio of adjustments to the side that experienced a 2-0 defeat in Foxborough at the hands of the New England Revolution.

Sean Johnson, earning his first start since the 2-2 draw against New York City FC on May 15, replaced Jon Busch in goal, who appeared in the last five MLS regular season fixtures. Joevin Jones - making his return from international duty with Trinidad and Tobago - occupied the left midfield position in place of Greg Cochrane, who retreated to left back for his second consecutive league start. Chris Ritter also stood in for suspended rookie Matt Polster after putting in 120 minutes against Louisville City FC last Tuesday.  

The opening stages were hardly reflective of some of the sparkling first half performances demonstrated earlier this season as the Fire offered little going forward. The Eastern Conference sides exchanged blows in the early minutes as Jeff Larentowicz, Kennedy Igboananike and Adailton were caught on either side of some chippy fouls, with the Men in Red registering 12 fouls against their counterparts.

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In the seventh minute, Igboananike was released down the right flank by Harry Shipp, only to slice his effort high and wide of Bill Hamid's goal.

D.C.'s Facundo Coria sidestepped Larentowicz at the top of the 18 in the 20th minute and unleashed a stinging, left-footed shot aimed at Sean Johnson, who did well to palm the Argentinian's effort up and over the bar.

Six minutes later, the Men in Red attempted to carve out a meaningful opportunity of their own, but saw a Greg Cochrane cross in the 24th minute easily dealt with by the D.C. defense. The visitors subsequently stormed down the pitch with Jairo Arrieta, who scored the second and third goals to sink Yallop's side three weeks earlier, nearly converting at the other end, forcing another alert save from Johnson.

Igboanaike again struggled to translate his commendable work rate to any profit at the half our mark, as the Designated Player did well to beat Kofi Opare inside the opposition's box before failing to trouble Hamid once again.   

[RELATED: Fire look to avoid four-match losing skid with result vs. D.C.]

The second 45 saw the visitors bring on Fabian Espindola and Nick DeLeon to help muster more than just a solitary point away from their visit to Toyota Park.

Sustained pressure eventually paid dividends for Ben Olsen's outfit when, with just over a quarter of an hour remaining in the encounter, Conor Doyle hit a rifling first-time shot from 25 yards in the 73rd minute to grab all three points and help D.C. remain atop the Eastern Conference.

"It’s probably the best goal he is going to score and I think tonight that was one of the better goals we have seen here," Yallop added. "It is just frustrating when that happens, it would be nice for one of those to go in for us. Then we can get the ball rolling and the effort from the group tonight was there. We didn’t want to lose the game, the fellows gave me everything they have, they give themselves and the team, the club, and the fans a right good go trying to win the game."

The Fire return with a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 match against the Charlotte Independence next Tuesday, while D.C. face Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Greg Cochrane; Harry Shipp, Razvan Cocis, Chris Ritter (Mike Magee, 73'), Joevin Jones (Jason Johnson, 46'); Guly do Prado; Kennedy Igboananike.

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.