Fire

Fire head to Colorado in return to MLS play

Fire head to Colorado in return to MLS play

The Copa America Centenario break is over for the Chicago Fire and the schedule is crowded once again.

The Fire survived the U.S. Open Cup opener against Indy Eleven in penalty kicks on Wednesday and have a quick turnaround to take on the Colorado Rapids in a return to league play on Saturday. Coverage on CSN+ begins at 7:30 with Fire Pregame Live.

There are a lot of reasons to think the Fire will have a tough time in Colorado. The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) will be playing on two days rest after going 120 minutes with a near full strength lineup and will do so in Colorado’s elevation. On top of that the Rapids (8-2-4, 28 points) have the best record in the league and the Fire haven’t won on the road since 2014.

“We addressed how important it is to recover, what it takes to do that, how to sleep... and all these kind of things,” coach Veljko Paunovic said after Wednesday’s game. “That’s a challenge and we are doing our best. For sure we are using all our resources and all our experience to do that. I believe we will recover well for the game.”

Colorado also played in the Open Cup, but played on Tuesday at home and didn’t need extra time. However, the Rapids will be without two key players in Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi. Jones is still in the Copa America with the Americans, who are headed for the semifinals, and Gashi is playing for Albania in Euro 2016. Bobby Burling and Jared Watts will also be out for the Rapids.

The Rapids have given up just three goals in seven home matches and are 6-0-1 at home. The Fire have scored just twice in five road matches with a record of 0-3-2.

“Playing at home they are very, very confident,” Paunovic said of the Rapids. “I think in all lines they are a very, very well balanced team and they are winning games. Tough mentality and for us it’s going to be hard.”

For the Fire, Matt Polster suffered a concussion on Wednesday and will not play Saturday. John Goossens and Collin Fernandez, who have been out of action for weeks, will not return against Colorado. The saga around Gilberto is still ongoing and he will not play Saturday.

Chicago Fire at Colorado Rapids

When: 8 p.m. (Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+

Where: Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

schwein-221.jpg
USA TODAY

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

polster-217.jpg
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.