Fire

Fire left despondent after loss to Rapids: ‘It's unacceptable’

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Fire left despondent after loss to Rapids: ‘It's unacceptable’

Of the six losses the Chicago Fire have encountered at Toyota Park this season, arguably none were met with more frustration and disappointment than Saturday night's defeat to the Colorado Rapids.

Pablo Mastroeni's side had brought up the rear of the Western Conference for much of the season, as had Frank Yallop's group in the Eastern Conference. Though both remained glued to last place in their respective regions by night's end, Colorado's sucker-punch, counter-attack goal - the lone tally on the night - breathed life into the visitors, who had only registered seven goals in 11 games on the road heading into Saturday's cross-conference clash.

For the Fire, the thorough and consummate 2-0 toppling of FC Dallas at the beginning of August has become a distant memory. Since then, elimination from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup - sandwiched between a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers and last weekend's 3-3 draw at the Philadelphia Union - has seen lingering discontentment among fans boil over.

[RELATED: Fire done in by first-minute goal, fall to Rapids]

"We had an idea going into the game," Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp said. "You can't blame them. They want to support a team that's doing well on the field, and the last couple years, we haven't been able to get it done. For us, we hope they keep supporting us and recognizing that we're doing everything possible. 

"We're not sleeping well at night. We're coming in, it's miserable for us to be here not doing well, because it is our livelihood. Hopefully they'll recognize that and know we want to do well just as much as they want us to do well." 

Inevitable factors have painted the Fire (6-13-5, 23 points) in a harsher light than perhaps they deserve throughout 2015. In terms of team selection, losing players to injuries and international duty - a commonplace and harsh reality all MLS clubs can attest to - has become a talking point through the greater portion of 24 games. But defensive errors and lapses in concentration in key moments - amid the undoubted effort on display - leave the Men in Red searching for clues as to how to right the ship with just 10 fixtures remaining.

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Attaining some semblance of stability and consistency heading into the final stretch will prove vital. With wins coming at a premium, costly mistakes, much like the ones that multiplied in the build-up to Dillon Serna's tap-in at the back post 54 seconds in, won't suffice if the Fire are to pluck anything positive from an otherwise disheartening campaign. 

“We can’t give up the goal, they got the one chance early, and it’s unacceptable from our part,” Shipp added. “We wanted to come out fast and press them, and we got caught high up the field, and that’s not acceptable. ... “The way we’ve played this year, we don’t necessarily deserve to have any luck, but tonight, there were some times where I thought we were a little bit unlucky.” 

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.