Fire: Geographic groupings for Round of 16 USOC draw announced


Fire: Geographic groupings for Round of 16 USOC draw announced

With 14 MLS teams advancing past the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer announced the geographic groupings prior to Thursday morning's Round of 16 draw late Wednesday night.

The Chicago Fire left it late in their fourth round fixture, narrowly edging Louisville City FC in extra time thanks to Quincy Amarikwa's redirected header in the 116th minute. Despite finding it difficult to break down the staunch USL outfit, it was enough to propel the Men in Red to the fifth round.

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Thursday' draw, which will be streamed live on at 10 a.m. CT, will ultimately determine which of the three teams listed below Frank Yallop's side - a four-time Open Cup champion - will face on June 30/July 1.

Charlotte Independence - the lone representative remaining from third-division USL -  eliminated 2007 Open Cup champion New England Revolution in Boston in the fourth round. The Jacks, in their first year, took over USL Pro franchise Charlotte Eagles, whom the Fire defeated 2-0 on May 29, 2013 in their only meeting in the storied tournament and now reside in the Premier Development League (PDL), the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid.

Meanwhile, the Fire could also face Orlando City SC for the first time since the solitary meeting with Adrian Heath's group at Toyota Park on June 26, 2013, in which the Men in Red trounced the former USL delegation 5-1.

[MORE: Fire's all-time leader in goals to be inducted into Ring of Fire]

The Lions, who sunk the Fire late on in their first-ever MLS encounter this season, survived a thriller Wednesday night against USL's Charleston Battery. With four penalty kicks awarded in 120 minutes, a 4-4 draw by the end of the second period of extra time forced the match into a penalty kick shootout, which saw the expansion side come out victorious by an 8-7 margin.

Finally, a sixth bout in Open Cup play with Columbus Crew SC may beckon as well. The Men in Red's Eastern Conference rivals have lost all five matches played between the two teams since 1998. Gregg Berhalter's group handily knocked out 1995 winners Richmond Kickers 3-1 Wednesday and cruised to the next phase.

For more info on the general proceedings of the Round of 16 draw, click here.   

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.