Fire

Fire hoping loss in Yankee Stadium will provide wake-up call

de-leeuw-725.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire hoping loss in Yankee Stadium will provide wake-up call

Coming off the first MLS loss for the Chicago Fire in more than two months, Tuesday’s practice seemed to have a bit more intensity.

After coming out a bit sloppy in a 2-1 loss to New York City FC following a two-and-a-half week break, the team is trying to get back the sharpness and consistency displayed during its 12-game unbeaten run.

“I think it’s the transfer from the bad sensations that we had in the last game,” Paunovic said. “You can lose the game and it’s not the end of the world, but not in the way we lost it.”

The Fire are again licking their wounds after failing to convert chances against a shorthanded team. As opposed to the scoreless draw in Orlando in June, when the Lions finished the game with nine players, this time the Fire were able to score, but actually lost.

This problem is something Paunovic has spoken about before, but is one the Fire still haven’t been able to solve.

“You see the same as in Orlando,” de Leeuw said. “If they play with 10 men and it looks like we’re playing with 10 men, then they deserve every point they had.

“I don’t know what it is. I think maybe when teams are sitting back we need to do something else. We are good at 11 against 11 with possession, the runs we make, but when they have 10 men and they’re going to sit back, you think you need to run less, but actually you need to run more. Because you are with 11 guys you need to create more space. The expectation is higher then from you and I think we lacked that and some other things in the game.”

The filter-free, outspoken de Leeuw said the team had no energy. He is hoping the loss will turn into a motivating factor for the Fire.

“It’s better that it happens now because everybody needs to wake up,” de Leeuw said. “The points we had, it’s not coming by itself. We have to work for it every game, against every opponent, if it’s 10 men, nine men, we have to work for it. It’s good everybody had a wake-up call Saturday I think. OK, we need to work for it, but also we don’t need to distract because we lost one game. We had 11 or 12 good games before that and we lost one, so OK it can happen, but it’s more s--- that it’s against 10 men.”

Teams having sometimes inexplicably bad games is a part of Major League Soccer. The fact that the Fire had gone so long without one was what made the team’s unbeaten run so impressive.

The players and Paunovic have talked about how important the break was. Bastian Schweinsteiger said it was more important for the mind than the body. However, is it possible that the break took the edge away from the Fire?

“We were not sharp, I don’t know, maybe from the break,” winger David Accam said. “We came back and not a single player was sharp. We gave sloppy passes and for us I don’t think it’s just about 10 men or teams staying back, it’s just about us. We were not sharp. We did not play well. It was like we were still training or something.”

Paunovic is trying to refocus his group for another tough road game at Sporting Kansas City coming up this weekend.

“The break was a good thing in terms of recovering from the tough first half of the season,” Paunovic said. “Every team needs that, especially when you’re at the top and did well like we did in the past, but also the break has some challenges and these challenges are losing the rhythm, getting back to the working suit and working atmosphere and mentality.

“It’s just different when you have the game, when you’re in the rhythm of the games and in the season and you’re going from game to game you kind of get that habit very, very simple and very fluent and then you just work towards the next game. That was maybe interrupted with the break, but we are going back, as I said that’s our goal now, to get that habit back again, that mentality that we had before.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

schwein-not-playing.jpg
USA TODAY

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.