Fire

Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

The Kennedy Igboananike trade shifted focus a bit towards next year for the Chicago Fire, but on Sunday the focus returns to the field.

The Fire host the New York Red Bulls and the game will be televised live on CSN. Coverage starts at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The game willl also be simulcast with a Spanish language broadcast on CSN+.

Since going 1-5 to start the season, the Red Bulls (9-9-4, 31 points) have looked like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and sit second in the standings. The team’s recent run has caught the attention Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

“We are looking at the next game against one of the best teams in the league, in my opinion,” Paunovic said. “I would say performance wise the best team because in the style they play, it’s fantastic. I think they have very, very good players.”

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The Red Bulls are playing better of late, but have not succeeded much on the road. New York is 1-7-3 on the road and 8-2-1 at home.

The Fire (4-10-5, 17 points) remain in last in the conference, but have an eight-match unbeaten streak at Toyota Park.

“It’s important to stay strong at home and it’s important for our fans to see that we can compete against one of the best teams in the league here at our field with all our field,” Paunovic said.

Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis will miss his second straight match due to injury and Joey Calistri was still listed as questionable. With Igboananike gone, forward depth for the Fire is very thin, especially if Calistri is unavailable.

Brandon Vincent’s availability is also in question after playing in the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday. He only logged 33 minutes, but factoring in cross-country travel and just two days rest, Vincent may not play.

The Red Bulls have the same situation with Sacha Kljestan, who played 41 minutes in the All-Star Game. Kljestan leads the league with 12 assists and also has five goals. Bradley Wright-Phillips has also been hot of late. The English forward has 11 goals after not scoring in the first seven matches of the season.

“Sacha Kljestan is playing at an MVP-caliber level and Wright-Phillips has seemed to find the scoring touch again,” Fire defender Eric Gehrig said. “They had a great year last and they’re starting to turn it on now, but we’re at home. We know that if we bring our best game that we can compete with anyone at home. It’s an important three points, especially with our road form we know that we have to snatch these points up and we’re looking forward to it.”

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

When: 6 p.m. Sunday (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: Comcast SportsNet (simulcast in Spanish on CSN+)

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

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.