Fire hope 'fantastic fightback' at Union carries over vs. Rapids


Fire hope 'fantastic fightback' at Union carries over vs. Rapids

When Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop set about prying offensive-minded talent during the offseason, the investment in David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Shaun Maloney signaled Yallop's belief that the Men in Red - bolstered by a triumvirate of highly touted, designated player acquisitions - were to be an "exciting team to watch," and a balanced one at that.

Through 23 games in the MLS regular season and on the heels of a shattering withdrawal from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, the pendulum has swung every which way for the Fire (6-12-5, 23 points), who face the Colorado Rapids (5-9-9, 24 points) Saturday night at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN) desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive.  

“We’ve had a few games where we’ve not looked like we were that interested in playing,” Yallop told reporters Tuesday via teleconference. “Sometimes lack of confidence looks like lack of effort, but what I will say about Sunday, I think that that was a fantastic fight-back display against a team that’s home that’s beaten us on Wednesday. We had to come back and show that we weren’t going to give up, and we didn’t. ... Hopefully that'll be a springboard for the next two games to get results."

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Igboananike, whose designated player contract was bought down to make way for the signing of Brazilian forward Gilberto before the close of the secondary transfer window, produced a gritty, two-goal and one-assist display on Sunday, while Accam's lingering hamstring issues confined the Ghanaian to the bench as the Fire's shambolic defensive performance - but for Sean Johnson's heroics - demanded a three-goal outing to help snatch a last-gasp point against the Philadelphia Union.

By the time the Men in Red line up against the Rapids, however, Maloney - eight months after his arrival from Wigan Athletic - will have already left Chicago.

Amid reports in recent weeks confirming the submission of bids from English Championship side Hull City, the Scotland international, who netted thrice for the Men in Red and bagged two assists in 14 appearances, is set to make his return across the pond for family reasons. Yallop, speaking with the Daily Herald after training Thursday, said the deal was all but confirmed, with City boss Steve Bruce expounding on it to local radio Friday morning.     

[RELATED: Fire, Union settle for point in dramatic draw in Philadelphia]

Without the Scotsman, the last-placed Fire will have to press on as the playoff picture could be significantly altered by weekend's end. Fifth-placed Toronto FC (31 points) battle eighth-placed Orlando City SC (28 points) Saturday afternoon before Didier Drogba and sixth-placed Montreal Impact (28 points) clash with ninth-placed Union later on.

Following Saturday's encounter with Pablo Mastroeni's men, Yallop & Co. face stiff tests in the remaining 10 matches against Eastern Conference opponents: a trio of fixtures against high-flying New York Red Bulls; a home-and-home with Orlando City; two visits to Saputo Stadium to face the Impact and games against Toronto, New England Revolution and D.C. United.

“They’ve kept going; they’ve kept fighting,” Yallop said of his group. “We’re a couple of bad mistakes away from being around the playoffs. We’ve just got to put that right. We’ve got to get a couple of good results early now in the next three games. If we can do that, we’re right in the picture.”

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids

Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.

Broadcast: CSN Chicago         

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.