Fire

Fire head to Yankee Stadium for big Eastern Conference clash

fire-nyc-pre.jpg

Fire head to Yankee Stadium for big Eastern Conference clash

There’s no easing out of the break for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire return after having two and a half weeks between games to take on one of the top rivals in the Eastern Conference race. The Fire head to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC on Saturday.

The match will be televised on CSN+ with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The Fire last played July 5 in Portland, taking time off while the Gold Cup group stage took place. Bastian Schweinsteiger missed that match with a hip injury that caused him to leave the previous match against Vancouver early, but he says he is ready to go in The Bronx.

“I was a little bit unlucky that I had this injury and I couldn’t play against Portland,” Schweinsteiger said. “If the game would be on a Saturday (three days after the match took place) I probably could play the game. The break was nice. It was good to recover. Not only for the body, but also for the head. Actually more for the head. I’m ready for the second part of the season. We have a good position in the standings, but it’s going to be more tough for us. I think other teams, they analyze us as well now. They play maybe in a different style against us so we have to find solutions and prepare ourselves.”

The Fire return from the break with a mostly clean bill of health. Defender Jonathan Campbell is listed as questionable with a right ankle injury.

New York City is in the middle of a crucial stretch for the race at the top of the conference. Toronto FC, which currently leads the league with 39 points, just earned a 2-2 draw in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. NYCFC is four points behind the Fire (11-3-5, 38 points) with a 10-6-4 record (34 points).

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic always hypes up the upcoming match, but wasn’t shy to speak of the extra importance of Saturday’s clash of playoff contenders.

“It’s everything, this game is everything,” Paunovic said. “We are now in a good spot. We have time to prepare. We have time to see them, but also we have to know that we have to work.”

Schweinsteiger called NYCFC one of the best teams in the league, along with Toronto. He also praised the style the team plays with under coach Patrick Vieira.

“I really appreciate how they play and how they behave also on the pitch,” Schweinsteiger said. “It’s going to be not an easy match for us away, but we are confident. We are confident. We are trying to find solutions to prepare ourselves during the week for that game and I’m very looking forward to play in Yankee Stadium. It’s a little bit different, it looks a little bit different when I saw it on TV, but I’m looking forward to this match.”

When set up for soccer, Yankee Stadium features a small field. The tight dimensions could make it tougher for the Fire’s preferred style of building out of the back with possession.

“You have to prepare for that,” Schweinsteiger said. “The pitch is smaller than, for example, let’s say I played in Barcelona in Nou Camp. It’s a huge field over there so it’s different. We have to know that and obviously we have to focus of course on our game, but also on the other team. They have David Villa, one of the best players in the league.”

Villa, who was voted into the All-Star Game as part of the Fan XI alongside Schweinsteiger and Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, is second to Nikolic with 13 goals and also has seven assists.

Chicago Fire at New York City FC

Where: Yankee Stadium, New York

TV: CSN+

When: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-3-5, 38 points), NYCFC (10-6-4, 34 points)

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

sanchez-115.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

When the Fire announced that three goalkeepers, Jorge Bava, Matt Lampson and Stefan Cleveland, all had their options picked up for 2018 and the team was negotiating a deal to bring back Richard Sanchez, something had to give.

It appears that has been sorted out with the news that Sanchez is in fact back with the Fire, but also that it appears Bava has left the team.

On Monday the Fire announced Sanchez signed a contract guaranteeing him for 2018 and 2019 with a club option for 2020. The 23-year-old made two starts with the Fire in 2017 after he was brought in on Aug. 11.

As is fairly common practice in MLS, the option on Sanchez's initial contract with the Fire was for more than what he signed for on this new deal, according to a source. This is similar to what happened with Razvan Cocis and Luis Solignac in the past two years. Those players both had their options declined only to be brought back for a lower salary number.

Sanchez had mixed results on the field, making one of the better goalkeeper performances the Fire had in 2017 in his debut in San Jose, but then struggled in the regular season finale in Houston. He's young enough to believe he can improve, especially at goalkeeper where players tend to hit their peak older than field players.

As for Bava, it seems all but official that he has joined Liverpool FC Montevideo in his home country of Uruguay. The team's official account tweeted out a welcome to Bava, although there has been no word from the Fire yet.

Bava, 36, made eight starts before being benched in favor of Lampson and missed the second half of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. Once Bava's exit is finalized the Fire will have three goalkeepers instead of the overloaded four.

When Bava was hurt and Sanchez was brought on as a late-season replacement, Lampson and Sanchez emerged as the two candidates for starting goalkeeper. It appears that battle will continue in 2018.

Lampson has far more professional experience with 51 MLS appearances while Sanchez only made sporadic starts in lower divisions in the U.S. and Mexico before joining the Fire. Sanchez was a fairly well-regarded prospect having played with Mexico's Under-17 and U-20 teams at youth World Cups.

Not counting Bava, the Fire have 19 players under contract. Bastian Schweinsteiger's situation remains unofficial, although reports have said he is likely to return. The MLS combine has completed two of three rounds of matches with the draft taking place on Friday.

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

lindley-113.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

For the past two offseasons, Cam Lindley’s name has popped up as a potential key addition for the Fire.

The North Carolina sophomore has been one of the top midfielders in college soccer the past two seasons and has established himself as a good MLS prospect. The Fire held his homegrown rights after he traveled from Indianapolis to play with the Fire’s academy in high school, even helping the U-18 team win the Development Academy national title in 2015.

The Fire failed to sign him last offseason, with Lindley electing to return to college. When the college season ended and negotiations started up again this winter, Lindley turned down the Fire’s homegrown offer. Initially, it was expected that meant he was returning to school, but now Paul Tenorio has reported that the Fire traded Lindley’s homegrown rights to Orlando.


In Tenorio’s reported deal, which he said was still being finalized, the Fire receive right back Rafael Ramos and allocation money from the Lions. The move means Orlando gets the exclusive rights within MLS to negotiate with Lindley and if he signs he will still count as a homegrown for Orlando.

Lindley did not train at all with the Fire in the past year, instead electing to stay in North Carolina when he played in the PDL (a summer league for college players). In 2016, Lindley played with the Fire’s PDL team. The Fire’s three other best homegrown prospects who played in college this past season, Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman and Mauricio Pineda, all spent some time in training with the Fire in 2017. Pineda stayed after practice multiple times with coach Veljko Paunovic in one-on-one drills. Lillard, the only senior of the four, signed his homegrown deal with the Fire earlier this week.

On the one hand, the Fire get a player in Ramos, who is 23 years old and could help provide depth at both right back and left back. The Portuguese player made 39 MLS appearances in three years with Orlando, including 24 starts in 2015, but injuries contributed to a lack of playing time last season when

Ramos played 55 MLS minutes. A hamstring injury limited him in 2016 and again in the 2017 preseason when he was expected to be the starter at right back. Once he returned, Scott Sutter had established himself at the position.

Ramos vented his frustration at a lack of playing time in an Orlando Sentinel story in October.

On the other hand, Lindley is a player who was racking up the accolades at UNC. As a freshman he tallied seven assists and was named national Freshman of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer and a first team All-ACC pick. This season, he had seven goals and 13 assists and was a first team All-American by United Soccer Coaches, Top Drawer Soccer and College Soccer News in addition to being named ACC Midfielder of the Year. The Tar Heels made it to the College Cup semifinals both years.

The midfielder could be good enough to receive interest from European teams, which could make it good business for the Fire to get something from within MLS for him instead of letting him go for free.

If the trade materializes, it will be a failure on the Fire’s part to convince a talented young player who spent time in the team’s academy to sign, but also a success in getting something of value in return for a player who may not want to sign with the team.