Fire let two-goal lead slip, fall on the road to Red Bulls


Fire let two-goal lead slip, fall on the road to Red Bulls

Through the opening 26 minutes of Friday night's Eastern Conference bout between the Fire and New York Red Bulls, Frank Yallop's men appeared to be on their way toward grabbing the seemingly elusive first away win of the season - and first since July 12, 2014.

After Jeff Larentowicz opened the scoring a minute shy of the quarter-hour mark, David Accam notched his team-leading eighth goal 12 minutes later. But Jesse Marsch's side came roaring back, answering in the 28th and 38th minutes through Bradley Wright-Phillips and Mike Grella before Sacha Kljestan's penalty kick in the 71st minute sealed all three points for the hosts.

An impressive fightback display from the Red Bulls (13-7-6, 45 points) sends them to the top of the East - pending the result of D.C. United's match in Colorado on Saturday. For the Fire (7-15-6, 27 points), a 15th loss - the most recorded in any season since the club began play in MLS in 1997 - leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table with six games remaining.

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On Aug. 26, both sides thoroughly entertained the estimated 11,196 on hand at Toyota Park, which saw the Men in Red put in a valiant effort on both sides of the ball. On Friday, the scoreline was identical, but the outcome favored the Red Bulls in front of an announced crowd of 17,184 at Red Bull Arena.  

Yallop's displeasure with the defense that conceded four goals to Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact six days earlier translated into wholesale changes along the back four. Daneil Cyrus and Ty Harden made their club debut, and stepped in for Lovel Palmer and Eric Gehrig, respectively, while Joevin Jones replaced Greg Cochrane at left back. Matt Polster returned to central midfield alongside Michael Stephens, with Accam deputizing for Gilberto up front.

Despite relinquishing a majority of possession to their counterparts during the early stages, it was the Men in Red who struck first against the run of play. Kennedy Igboananike was taken down by Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle at the corner of the box and rewarded with a penalty kick. Larentowicz stepped up and sent goalkeeper Luis Robles the wrong way for his fifth spot kick conversion of 2015, level with David Villa and Chris Wondolowski.

The Fire doubled their lead in the 26th minute after Accam was sent through on a counterattack. The Ghanaian eased his way past Conor Lade, sidestepped Robles and dispatched in an empty net. Two minutes later, the Red Bulls hit back with a quick reply when Kljestan collected near the top of the area and slipped a sharp pass to Wright-Phillips. The Englishman stabbed it past Sean Johnson to cut the visitors' advantage in half.    

[RELATED: After loss to Impact, Fire look to bounce back against Red Bulls

Seven minutes shy of the halftime interval, the Fire were left to rue another series of defensive mistakes. Jones failed to prevent Lloyd Sam's delivery to Grella at the top of the six, and, despite Larentowicz' best effort to get back into position, Grella produced a swift spin-and-turn finish to pull the hosts level.

Already on the back foot for much of the game, the Men in Red were pegged back and dealt the final blow of the encounter 19 minutes from time.

An onrushing Sam made a darting run into the box and was tugged down by Stephens. As in the previous meeting, it was Kljestan who stepped up and coolly slotted home the penalty to supply the Red Bulls with their first lead of the night, and this time, one they would effectively see out.

Yallop's group gets the benefit of an eight-day break in action before returning home to face Orlando City SC next Saturday.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2) - Sean Johnson; Daneil Cyrus, Ty Harden, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Jason Johnson, 80'), Matt Polster, Michael Stephens (Razvan Cocis, 72'), Harry Shipp; David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike (Mike Magee, 61').


- Gilberto, who left training early on Wednesday with hamstring tightness, did not travel with the team to New York. A club spokesperson confirmed before kickoff that the Brazilian is questionable for next weekend's clash with Orlando City at Toyota Park.

- Igboananike came off in the 61st minute with a calf strain.

- Polster picked up a caution in the 65th minute, and will be unavailable against Orlando City through yellow card accumulation.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


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


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.