Recent rumors have sprung up about Chicago Fire winger David Accam leaving, but Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez squashed those rumors in an interview on Tuesday.
Accam has been training with Stoke City during the MLS offseason and that sparked the possibility of a move after just one season at Toyota Park, but Rodriguez was adamant that there has been no contact regarding a transfer.
“David is a key part of our team and a key part of our plans for 2016 and beyond,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t really understand where the rumors have originated or why they even exist. We’ve had no discussions at all with Stoke or any other team for the transfer of his services.”
Rodriguez explained that Accam approached the Fire about the training stint with the idea that it would help him better prepare for 2016.
“To David’s credit he wants to have a bigger and better season than he did last year,” Rodriguez said. “He thought that getting a head start on training would put him in a better position to achieve that goal of an improved season in 2016 and we were pleased to accommodate his request.
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“I know that he had felt a little fatigued last year and he thought that starting a more formalized training regimens earlier would give him a greater endurance and greater strength for the year. I think he deserves the credit for wanting to improve and for seeking out an opportunity if he thinks we’ll do that for him.”
What about a short-term loan move though? There have been cases of MLS players being loaned out for short stints in Europe during the MLS offseason. For example, Robbie Keane played for Aston Villa for two months in 2012 before returning to the Los Angeles Galaxy at the start of the MLS season.
“I’ve learned never to never say or rarely to say never, but it would be extremely difficult and it is very hard to foresee a scenario that would have us agree to a loan at the start of our season,” Rodriguez said. “With the new coaching staff and a new year, preseason becomes so much more important, particularly as our goals and objectives and being a team that is quite adaptable to circumstance is going to require us to have a team together quite a lot. I think it’s unrealistic.”
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.
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.