Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card


Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card

Through the first 15 minutes it appeared the Chicago Fire were going to be in the middle of another wide open, high-scoring match.

However, after host Orlando City and the Fire both scored early goals the Fire defense tightened up. Despite playing down a man for an hour, the Fire were able to hold on for a 1-1 draw on the road.

Cyle Larin got Orlando (0-0-2, 2 points) on the board in the fourth minute. He found some space between Fire defenders Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhof, but Campbell recovered to block Larin's initial shot. However, the ball then landed right at Larin's feet and he fired home.

The Fire (0-1-1, 1 point) struggled to keep possession for much of the first half, but were able to find some chances on the counter thanks to the speed of David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike. In the 14th minute one of those chances turned into a goal. The Fire cleared the ball from the defensive zone and Accam chased the bouncing ball on the Citrus Bowl turf and burned Seb Hines to create a breakaway on goal. Accam finished for his second goal in as many games.

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The match took a turn in the 32nd minute when Michael Harrington received a red card for going into a tackle with a high foot. Orlando held nearly 70 percent of the possession in the first half, dominating even before Harrington was sent off. Once the Fire played down a man, they were forced to sit back and play on the counter the rest of the way.

Orlando finished with 65 percent of the possession, but the Fire were able to absorb the pressure. Fire coach Veljko Paunovic went with a three-man back line with rookie Jonathan Campbell making his first start alongside Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof. Brandon Vincent and Harrington played as wing backs, pushing up for wide play when they could.

[MORE: Fire-NYCFC match draws record international ratings]

Orlando did get a few good chances in the second half, but goalkeeper Matt Lampson came up with some big saves. In the 78th minute Kevin Molino hit a laser of a shot off the outside of the post. A minute later Larin was free on the left side for a shot, but Lampson was able to get a piece of it and that one also ricocheted off the post. A minute after Larin's chance, Molino got free in the middle of the Fire defense, but Lampson got off his line to snuff out the chance.

After being derided in the opening loss to NYCFC, Lampson had a solid game. He wasn't put under as much pressure in terms of distribution, but made the saves he needed to on Friday.

Friday's match also marked the debut of John Goossens. Goossens played 73 minutes before being replaced by Razvan Cocis. He had a quiet game other than a nice chipped pass to Kappelhof that nearly resulted in a Fire goal in the second half.

One point through two matches is less than ideal for the Fire, but coming up with a point on the road while playing down a man for so long is a positive. Accam was again the Fire's best player by a wide margin and will surely again play a big role when the Fire host Columbus on March 19.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.