Fire fall to Real Salt Lake despite late rally at Toyota Park


Fire fall to Real Salt Lake despite late rally at Toyota Park

In the Chicago Fire's first game at Toyota Park since a 1-0 victory over expansion side New York City FC, the Men in Red saw their hopes of a fourth consecutive home win dashed after a 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Goals from Alvaro Saborio and Luke Mulholland sealed RSL's third win of the season and ended their scoreless streak at 510 minutes, while the Fire's fifth loss of 2015 sends Frank Yallop's side back down to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I wasn't happy with the first half performance," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "Our energy wasn't there. The effort in the end was kind of there, but it was too late. We didn't think smartly and we didn't really make that final pass again.

"It was a disappointing afternoon, but I'm not going to fault the whole group. They didn't cave in; they kept going and could have gotten something in the end, but our first half performance was quite poor from us."

After emerging with a hard-fought point against defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night, Jeff Cassar's outfit showed little signs of fatigue as they kept the Men in Red at bay in the opening stages before a nice passing sequence in the 14th minute gave the visitors an early advantage. A square ball from recent U.S. U-20 call-up Jordan Allen to forward Alvaro Saborio opened up the Fire defense, as his ensuing strike from the edge of the area flew past a diving Sean Johnson.

Two minutes before the break, the Men in Red nearly drew level after a fine corner-kick delivery from Designated Player Shaun Maloney found an unmarked Lovel Palmer in the box, only to see is volley hit the ground and bounce over Nick Rimando's goal. The lack of conviction and a finishing touch was evident once again, as the Fire finished out the half with 21 crosses, seven corner kicks and six shots, none of which yielded an effort on target.

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In the second half, the frustration was felt yet again after Guly do Prado found himself in open space and bursting down the right side, but his cross-shot was unable to find the feet of a lurking Quincy Amarikwa.

The Fire were left to rue the missed opportunity as RSL found the eventual game winner through midfielder Luke Mulholland two minutes later. Allen was at the heart of the move once more and slipped a ball through to Devon Sandoval, who laid one into the path of Mulholland to tuck a sliding shot away past Johnson in the 56th minute.

For the remaining half hour, the Men in Red found the verve that was nonexistent throughout the greater part of the match, as Yallop sent on Kennedy Igboananike and debutant Jason Johnson to help rescue a point.

It nearly paid dividends as Maloney earned a penalty in the 88th minute, which captain Jeff Larentowicz buried to give the Fire a glimmer of hope going into the five minutes of stoppage time that followed, in which the Men in Red continued to pin a staunch RSL back four deep into their half.

[RELATED: Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes]

Despite multiple attacking breaks, a lack of execution and some fine saves from Rimando to keep the Men in Red at arm's length, good game management and clinical finishing from the visiting side was enough for them to walk away with three points from Toyota Park.

"It's frustrating," Yallop said. You look at the game as a whole and you say 'did we deserve to win?' Maybe not, but did we deserve to lose with the general play? Maybe not. It's a game of goals and we only scored one from a penalty kick.

"We've just got to keep going and not lose faith in what we're doing. We're getting in certain spots on the field well, I think we're overlapping well, our switching of play was good, our general play was what we talked about, but just that final play, that cutting edge and confidence wasn't there."

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz, Adailton (Jason Johnson, 84'), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Matt Watson (Razvan Cocis, 53'), Matt Polster, Shaun Maloney; Guly do Prado (Kennedy Igboananike, 58'); Quincy Amarikwa.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.