Fire

Fire host Revolution, boosted by return of Accam, Maloney

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Fire host Revolution, boosted by return of Accam, Maloney

It's been some time since all three of the Chicago Fire's designated players graced the pitch at Toyota Park in unison.

May 30 -- a night underlined by arguably the team's most complete, 90-minute display of an otherwise topsy-turvy season in a 3-0 trouncing of the Montreal Impact -- was the last time David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Shaun Maloney were all at head coach Frank Yallop's disposal.

As the Men in Red gear up for Saturday's MLS regular-season clash with the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN), the prospect of the trio's involvement from the outset appears increasingly likely.

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"It would be great," Yallop said after training Friday. "I'm looking forward to seeing if they all start; all three of them on the field and doing their thing. Kennedy comes alive in the Orlando game, gets two goals, which gives him a ton of confidence going into this match. I thought Shaun and David were back to their best.  

“Finally, we’ve got guys that can make a difference in the match. We saw that [Wednesday]. You can play however you want to play, but they make a big difference. Minutes is obviously an issue, but making sure we don’t get these guys re-injured is the big plan."

Having succumbed to various injuries and called in for international duty since the beginning of June, Accam and Maloney's injection into the lineup yielded unmistakable results for the Fire in Wednesday's 3-1 U.S. Open Cup triumph over Orlando City SC. Maloney's vibrant introduction paved the way for Igboananike's stellar 25-minute cameo, which, spurred on by Accam's insertion, triggered a ferocious and late onslaught from an attacking unit that will be much different than the group that tasted defeat to the Revolution on June 13.

Since the two sides squared off at Gillette Stadium, the Revolution lost five straight in league play before snapping their skid with a 1-0 win over New York City FC on July 18. Despite winning the last two meetings in Foxborough, Jay Heaps' outfit has struggled mightily in Chicago, taking three points away from Toyota Park just once in their last 10 visits. 

[MORE: Report: Fire, Impact vie for Didier Drogba]   

“[The Revolution] have talented players, and they’re a good side,” Yallop added. “They’ve not maybe had the best of runs lately, but every team’s dangerous in our league. All of a sudden, they get on a run, and they’re confident, and they go.

“We’re the same. I'm not sure everyone's looking forward to playing against our attacking corps, once we get going. That makes other teams maybe look at us a little bit differently than we showed them the last time."    

Barring Jeff Larentowicz (neck) -- expected to resume full training next week and render himself available for next Sunday's match against FC Dallas -- and Mike Magee, who's tending to a lingering sore knee and the birth of his son earlier in the week, the Fire emerge from a grueling spate of games fairly unscathed, much to the delight of Yallop.

"Hopefully most of them," Yallop replied, when asked how many starters from the Open Cup game would return to the lineup Saturday. "We had a good performance, and we're hoping to keep some continuity in the team. It's never easy with a quick turnaround."

NOTE: Retired defender Gonzalo Segares will be recognized for his 10-year Fire career prior to Saturday's match. At halftime, the club will also honor the Chicago Fire Academy U-18 team, which claimed the U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship on July 18.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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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.