Fire finish home schedule against New England today on CSN+

Fire finish home schedule against New England today on CSN+

Just three days after tying Columbus to eliminate the Crew from playoff contention, the Chicago Fire can play spoiler again in the home finale.

The Fire host the New England Revolution, which sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, on Sunday. A loss for New England (10-13-9, 39 points) would virtually eliminate the Revolution, barring a shocking double-digit turnaround in goal differential, while even a tie could see them eliminated if Philadelphia tie or beat Orlando. All five Eastern Conference games on Sunday will kick off at the same time to create extra drama around tight playoff scenarios like this.

The game will be televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The match will kick off just after 2 p.m.

It is the Fire’s final home match of the season. Picking up one more win in front of the home fans is something coach Veljko Paunovic emphasized after the draw against Columbus.

“This game we have to win it for our fans because the people supporting us during the whole year, we appreciate that,” Paunovic said. “We got to give them a win next game. Guys we got to win.”

The Fire have a 5-3-8 record at home, which is tied with three other teams for the fewest home wins in the league. The team is hoping to leave Toyota Park for 2016 with a good memory.

“It was disappointing to not to get the win for the fans (against Columbus) and for us, but I think we need to move past it now and try to get those three points on Sunday against New England,” midfielder Matt Polster said.

In addition to trying to finish with a win to close out the home schedule, the Fire (6-16-10, 28 points) are trying to keep hope alive to avoid finishing in last place in back-to-back seasons. Houston is five points ahead of the Fire.

Both the Fire and Revolution enter without any significant injuries and Paunovic has said he intends to play a strong lineup to try to get the win as opposed to rotating the squad to give younger players some minutes.

“I want to see our guys working hard and giving our best to win the game,” Paunovic said. “That’s all I want for the next game and we have to do everything to do that.”

This will be the fourth time the Fire and Revolution meet in 2016. All three previous meetings were New England wins in Foxborough. New England won 2-0 on May 14, 1-0 on July 23 and 3-1 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal on Aug. 9.

New England has won four of its past five matches to get back in the playoff race. Juan Agudelo has scored three goals in that stretch while Kei Kamara has had two goals and two assists.

Typical play-by-play announcer Dan Kelly will be doing a national broadcast for Sunday so Michael Watts will be taking his place alongside Frank Klopas in the booth.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.