Fire

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez still 'searching' for potential summer additions

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Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez still 'searching' for potential summer additions

The summer transfer window in Major League Soccer has been open for a couple weeks and the Chicago Fire may make a couple moves before it closes on August 9.

Those moves may not necessarily affect the regular starting lineup, but Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Friday that they continue to seek out options to add depth to the team’s defense and that they may need another goalkeeper with Jorge Bava possibly being out for the season.

Bava, a 35 year-old from Uruguay who joined the Fire in January, has been out with what the club is calling left elbow tendinitis. He started the first eight matches of the season, but lost his starting job to Matt Lampson in May. He hasn’t been available as a sub since he was the backup June 4 in Orlando. Bava has been limited in training recently while wearing a brace on his left arm.

Rodriguez said Bava will go on the disabled list. While he is on the disabled list, he would not take up an international spot but would still count against the team’s salary cap.

“If he ends up needing surgery, which I think is likely, then his season will likely be lost and that international spot will open up, but there’s no budget room,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez added that if Bava is out for the season that will “require us to consider looking for another goalkeeper.” The Fire have two others on the roster in Lampson and rookie Stefan Cleveland, who hasn’t played for the Fire and has made only one appearance for USL affiliate Tulsa.

Slightly further up the field, defensive depth is something Rodriguez mentioned the team needed more of back in May. There are still only three centerbacks on the roster in Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira and Jonathan Campbell. A significant injury to any of those three would significantly hamper Veljko Paunovic’s options and flexibility, especially considering his tendency to use all three on the field in a tactical shift on occasion.

Justin Bilyeu, a 23-year-old former New York Red Bulls defender and former college teammate of Fire defender Matt Polster, has been training with the Fire for the past couple weeks. Bilyeu spent most of the past two seasons with the Red Bulls’ USL team before being waived on June 28. In addition, Cuban left back Jorge Corrales, who is currently a Tulsa player, was in training with the Fire this week, but is set to return to Tulsa for the Roughnecks’ next match on Monday.

“We have brought a couple players in on trial this week,” Rodriguez said of the pursuit of defensive depth. “We’ve spoken to a couple teams within the league. We continue to follow some targets, but we have not settled on a specific player to pursue. I don’t think we have yet felt comfortable with what we have in the pipeline, but we’ll keep searching.”

Rodriguez said the team is also looking at improving the midfield, but believes they are “pretty set” at forward. He wouldn’t comment on the rumors of Colombian playmaker Juan Quintero. The latest on that front is a tweet from Taylor Twellman saying the deal isn’t dead even though Quintero extended his loan with Colombian club DIM.


With the Fire sitting in second place in MLS, Rodriguez admitted his three-year plan for the team has been “accelerated a bit.” Rodriguez has a chance to put the cherry on top of a roster that has proven to be one of the best in the league to this point in the season. Is there more urgency to try to boost a team that appears to be a championship contender?

“There’s always a temptation to think ‘Oh man, we’re right there and if we get this piece it will just push us over the top.’ We remind ourselves all the time to refer back to our plan, to look at the opportunity to try to calculate what the knock on effects, positive and negative may be for the future, because ultimately we want to keep this good thing going for a run and a run isn’t one season.

“If something makes sense to us when you think it fits into the development of that championship program, we’ll do it. Just as we’ve been unable to add that backline depth all year long, we won’t do something just to check a box on a list. We’ll only do it if we think it makes sense in the overall context of what we’re trying to achieve.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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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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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.