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Fire lack finishing touch in defeat to Montreal Impact

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Fire lack finishing touch in defeat to Montreal Impact

Brian Bliss received a rude welcome in his first match in charge as Fire interim head coach.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba picked up where he left off on Sept. 5, when he notched a hat trick in his first-ever MLS start against the Fire. On Wednesday night, the Ivorian notched his fifth goal of the season before David Accam tallied a team-leading ninth goal to pull Bliss' group level five minutes past the halftime interval. But second-half substitute Andrés Romero's clinical finish in the 76th minute was enough to hand the Men in Red a 2-1 defeat in front of 17,832 at Stade Saputo. 

The loss - a league-high 17th of 2015 - is the fourth on the bounce for the Fire (7-17-6, 27 points), who still occupy last place in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Impact (11-11-6, 39 points) have a four-point cushion over Orlando City SC in the sixth and final playoff spot with two games in hand.

Bliss made a quartet of changes following the 1-0 defeat to Orlando City four days earlier, with Lovel Palmer and Patrick Doody coming in for Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones at right and left back, respectively. Matt Polster and Gilberto also earned starts, deputizing for Michael Stephens and Harry Shipp.

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Both sides labored to carve out any concrete opportunities for themselves in the early stages, with Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto trying their luck from distance before the 10-minute mark. In a flat 4-4-2 formation, the Fire back line capably blocked out Montreal's passing options and denied service in to the forwards, limiting the hosts to just one shot on target through the opening 38 minutes.

In the 16th minute, Gilberto was sent through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat. The Brazilian elected to dribble around, but Evan Bush expertly pushed the ball away and out of his reach. Just past the half-hour mark, Gilberto found himself at the heart of the team's most clear-cut opportunity, squaring for Accam in the box, but the Ghanaian disappointingly scuffed his side-footed effort off target. 

Six minutes later, the Men in Red would come to haunt those earlier misses.

Nigel Reo-Coker outmuscled and wriggled free from Razvan Cocis before delivering a pinpointed cross into the box to Drogba. The 37-year-old appeared to have unlawfully wrestled Jeff Larentowicz to the ground en route to powering home a header past a helpless Jon Busch, a contentious moment that went uncalled by the officiating crew, but was enough to send the hosts into halftime with a 1-0 advantage.

[RELATED: Bliss hopes to replicate past interim stint, win with Fire in Montreal] 

In the second stanza, the Fire were injected with a bit of life. 

Doody lobbed a ball over the top of the Impact defense from his left back position. Gilberto first capitalized on a mistake by Víctor Cabrera, flicked the ball over an onrushing Bush and sent a header on goal. The effort was cleared off the line and clanged off the post before Accam followed up with a goal-line header to pull the visitors level. 

Perhaps the Fire's most gilt-edged chance on the night fell to Accam, who raced into the box in the 73rd minute. The combination of the Ghanaian's pace and trickery helped him sidestep two defenders, but in the end, opted to chip the scrambling Bush, who was relieved to see the effort sail over the crossbar.

Three minutes later, Mauro Biello's side made the Fire pay via a finely executed, quick-fire attacking move. Patrice Bernier collected the ball in the Fire's defensive half and measured a splitting pass between Larentowicz and Ty Harden for Romero, who coolly dispatched past Busch less than five minutes after coming on for Johan Venegas.

Next up for the Fire is Saturday's visit to BMO Field to take on Toronto FC, while the Impact travel to the nation's capital to face D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2) - Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Ty Harden, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Harry Shipp, 83'), Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis, David Accam; Kennedy Igboananike (Joevin Jones, 66'), Gilberto (Mike Magee, 78').

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.