Fire

Fire hoping to build on Houston win

Fire hoping to build on Houston win

The Chicago Fire slogged through the first third of the season with just two wins, but the 1-0 win against Houston on Saturday offered some hope.

That hope comes not just in the result, but in the way the Fire played.

The 20 shots was the most for the Fire this season and the seven on target was second to only the season opener. It was probably the Fire's best performance of the season when adding in the solid defensive performance that was absent back on March 6.

There are still things that the Fire need to improve on though. The Fire probably should have converted more of those chances and the Dynamo had 62.9 percent of the possession.

“I’m absolutely sure that at some point of the season all the pieces will come together," coach Veljko Paunovic said during Tuesday's conference call with media. "We will start performing much better and we will have more offensive outcome and obviously we have to keep our defensive good performance."

So now that the Fire had a decent performance and result, the question becomes can the team build on it?

“I think we have to build on this win," goalkeeper Sean Johnson said after the game. "I think any type of positivity in this time you have to grab and you have to run with it."

It must be said that Houston is down near the bottom of the league's standings and the Dynamo are now 0-6 on the road. With that in mind, beating Houston should have been more of an expectation, but if it gives a confidence boost to the Fire that may be all that matters.

It won't be as easy against Portland, the defending MLS Cup champions. However, a win against the Timbers would start to make the MLS standings less cringe-worthy for Fire fans ahead of the Copa America break.

"We believe that winning the game against Houston will help us to come to this game with more confidence, better prepared and that’s something that we have to work on this week," Paunovic said. "We believe that actually it’s a great moment for us to finish the first part of the season winning against a very good team, at least have a very good performance.”

On the injury front, Paunovic said that David Accam is still at full strength and ready to return after being suspended for the Houston match. Gilberto is still nursing a minor hamstring injury, but has been training with the team. Michael Harrington and Collin Fernandez are nearing returns, but may still be out Saturday. John Goossens will be out Saturday, but Paunovic said he expects him to be back after the break.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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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

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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.