Fire look to avoid four-match losing skid with result vs. D.C.


Fire look to avoid four-match losing skid with result vs. D.C.

Before Week 16 of the MLS regular season had reached its last act, victories for New York City FC and the Montreal Impact Saturday night ensured the Chicago Fire's drop to last place in the Eastern Conference to finish the weekend with the least amount of points (14) in the league.

It was an unsavory pill to swallow for Frank Yallop, who, since rejoicing in the 3-0 shutout of Montreal at the end of May, has overseen a three-match losing skid against conference opponents mar his side in June.

Beginning with a 3-1 defeat at D.C. United on June 3, the Men in Red were delivered a crushing blow three days later by Kaká and Orlando City SC, who were gift wrapped three points in a late turnaround at Toyota Park. The latest league outing - a 2-0 loss to second-place New England Revolution on June 13 - further revealed the Fire's defensive fragility - surrendering eight goals in that span - and inability to resist sustained bouts of pressure despite relatively sturdy first half showings.

After a shaky win over Louisville City FC in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last week, competitive training sessions since and a favorable return to Toyota Park on Wednesday leads Yallop to believe a win against the Eastern Conference leaders may be all that is needed to spark his group to life.

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"Practice has been pretty sharp for the last few days after our win in the Cup where, again, we all saw the game," Yallop said Monday. "We didn't play particularly well and looked a bit disjointed, but we got through and won. It's something that breeds confidence. As a lot of MLS teams will tell you, one result or one thing that changes and all of a sudden you start to feel good about yourself and get on a run.

"We've had some tough games in the last three in MLS. We're at home; we're hoping we can jump on the front foot, get three points and put us back into the playoff picture."

For the Black and Red, a four-game stretch away from the confines of RFK Stadium begins, while the Men in Red hope to avoid losing four matches in a row for the fourth time (twice in 2002, once in 2007) in their history. Since a 1-0 victory on August 29, 2009, D.C. have also only emerged with four points from Bridgeview in six games.

[RELATED: Maloney out vs. D.C.; Jones, Accam train separately]

The visitors enter the match on the back of a 2-1 comeback win over the Revolution, who granted Ben Olsen's side a generous, seven-point cushion atop the standings despite holding a 1-0 halftime advantage. It's a hard lesson that, three weeks on from disintegrating in similar fashion, still resonates with Yallop as he prepares for the return fixture.  

"D.C. are a decent side, they just beat New England," Yallop added. "They did the same as us: scored in the first half, and then scored two goals in the second half. It happens to the best teams against someone like D.C.       

"You learn from all parts of games. We lost against Salt Lake at home as well, and that wasn't a good game. The performance was okay; we created a ton of chances, but we gave the game away.

"We've just got to learn from it. We're banged up a little bit right now, but I'm excited about the prospects and how we're going to play in our fight for Wednesday night, because it's an important game for us." 

[MORE FIRE: Jon Busch, Frank Yallop react to USOC Round of 16 draw]

D.C., who've amassed an astounding 5-4-1 record when conceding the first goal, have deftly become the preeminent escape gurus of MLS, while the corresponding scenario - in contrast - has been a particular soft underbelly for the Fire, who've compiled a 0-6-1 record when conceding first.

Wednesday's match, moreover, will be no picnic for the Men in Red. Yallop & Co. will be without the services of Shaun Maloney - out two to three weeks with a bulging disc in his lower back - David Accam (hamstring) and Matt Polster (yellow card accumulation). Mike Magee, who pulled up with a niggle in his hamstring before the New England match, has put himself in contention to be named to the 18 against D.C. and could provide a useful spark off the bench as he continues his resurgence from hip and knee surgeries.

Be sure to tune in to CSN+ for Pregame Live at 7 p.m. with Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan before kickoff at 7:30.       

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.