Fire hit the road to take on Orlando City


Fire hit the road to take on Orlando City

The Chicago Fire opened the 2016 season with a disappointing home loss to a 2015 MLS expansion team. Now the Fire hit the road to take on the other 2015 MLS expansion side.

After Sunday’s 4-3 loss to New York City FC, the Fire will pay Orlando City a visit at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Lions drew Real Salt Lake 2-2 in the opener, scoring twice in second half stoppage time in a game that included a red card for each team.

Orlando had over 60,000 in attendance in the Citrus Bowl and should have another big crowd again. The big crowd isn’t the only factor of playing at the Citrus Bowl.

“We are going to prepare for the turf, we are going to prepare for the weather,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We expect it to be hot there and we will do our best to prepare for those conditions.”

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Friday will be Paunovic’s first road match in charge of the Fire. The Fire went through all of 2015 without a single win on the road, although Paunovic didn’t address last year’s road failures directly when asked earlier this week.

“We see all our games as an opportunity for us to win, to perform well and to be the best we can be,” Paunovic said. “For the next game, we will have our game plan. We always want to win, don’t forget that. We will always say that.

“This time hopefully we will perform defensively better and also offensively we score the opportunities we create in order to win.”

From a personnel standpoint, Friday could mark the debut of John Goossens. The Dutch midfielder received his visa this week and returned to training on Wednesday. He played a key role in the preseason and if he is deemed fit enough to play after the long flight to his home country, Goossens could be a difference maker in the Fire midfield.

Meanwhile, Gilberto is listed as out in the injury report. He suffered an injury early on against NYCFC and was subbed out at halftime. In his absence, Paunovic may elect a different setup than the 4-2-3-1 he started out with on Sunday.

[MORE: Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener]

As for Orlando, the Lions’ lineup has been in flux to start the season. For starters, Brazilian star Kaka is expected to be out for the second straight week. He suffered a thigh strain in training leading up to the opener and will also miss Friday’s match. In addition, midfielder Darwin Ceren will be out serving his red card suspension after being sent off against RSL. Returning for Orlando will be midfielder Cristian Higuita, who sat out the opener due to a red card in the 2015 season finale.

Friday’s match could also serve as the debut for Antonio Nocerino, who joined the team too late to play on Sunday. Nocerino, 30, last played for AC Milan and is a former Italian international.

All the movement in the lineup has made Orlando a bit unpredictable early on. Paunovic noted that the Lions used a 4-3-3 against RSL, something they hadn’t shown in the preseason.

“Playing at home, we expect them to be a more direct team than New York, but still playing the same formation as they played in the first game,” Paunovic said. “We expect to have to contrast them in the same way we tried to do against New York. We have to improve our defense against them. They have very fast guys, very strong guys, like (Cyle) Larin. Then you have (Kevin) Molino and (Brek) Shea, guys who we can say now they have experience in the league that can be very, very dangerous.”

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.