Fire

Fire first-rounder Jonathan Campbell adjusting to life as a professional

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Fire first-rounder Jonathan Campbell adjusting to life as a professional

Brandon Vincent got more of the headlines on draft day as the higher pick, but Jonathan Campbell also figures to be a key part of the Chicago Fire’s future.

The center back who the Fire selected 12th overall in the MLS SuperDraft plays a position of need for the club and is the only young option at the position. While his 2016 role may be to learn the ropes of MLS and being a professional athlete in general while only filling in when needed, Campbell represents an important piece of the longer-term future of the club.

“I don’t think you should look at it as pressure,” Campbell said of being a first round draft pick. “I think it’s just nice that we have a good opportunity here. A lot of change here going on so I think some other guys (in the draft) can go somewhere else that maybe they don’t have very high chances of playing. I think it’s very positive here.”

[RELATED - Fire sign MLS veteran midfielder Nick Labrocca]

The 6-foot-2 defender is getting settled into training as the Fire’s preseason began on Monday. The upcoming trips to Tampa and Portland are just two more stops on a busy stretch of travel for Campbell.

The former North Carolina standout endured the busy month of travel for MLS rookies. First, Campbell made the trip to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for the MLS Combine. After playing three games in five days, which Campbell described as stressful, he flew to Baltimore for the draft.

“I actually didn’t pack well for the draft weather,” Campbell said. “Obviously going from warm to cold and now I come to Chicago and then we’re going to go to Tampa and Portland. There’s no chance you can pack properly for being in three completely different cities.”

Living out of a suitcase for the time being is the least of Campbell’s worries. He’s been working on preparing himself for his first taste of professional soccer.

“I think the next level just from college to pro comes down to how many plays you can make right versus wrong and just getting that percentage as high as possible,” Campbell said. “That can be in possession or just making the right play defensively. I don’t think guys are going to be that much different athletically. I think you’ll play against some very athletic guys in college, but I think the tactical decisions is the next level.”

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One thing Campbell said he is working on is being more aggressive attacking the ball on offensive corner kicks. He is confident in his ability defensively on corners, but wants to be more of a threat on the attacking end.

As for the team, Campbell believes the Fire need to get off to a fast start to avoid a repeat of 2015.

“As a team, obviously last year was hard for them so I think the main thing is a switch in mentality,” he said. “If you don’t start off on the right foot, I think it can lead to some negative attitudes, but I think we can get off on a good start and that will be very positive for us.”

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.