Fire

Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union

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Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union

With more than two-thirds of the MLS regular season gone, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.

As clubs around the league jostle for precious points, the next two months will go a long way toward determining which teams are worthy of a postseason berth. For the Chicago Fire (6-12-4, 22 points) - following a sluggish display in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup exit - a rematch against the Philadelphia Union (6-13-5, 23 points) at PPL Park on Sunday provides the Men in Red a shot at clambering out of the Eastern Conference cellar.         

“Yeah, it’s a good question,” Fire coach Frank Yallop said earlier in the week when asked about the poor run of form away from Toyota Park. “We don’t set up any differently, we try to do the same type of things that we do at home. Maybe we play a little bit deeper, but not by intention.

“Obviously most teams win their home games or they tend to be good at home, and the odd teams that do well in the league usually have a good road record also. ... For us, we’ve just got to keep plugging away and hope that tide will turn and we’ll get that win.”

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After a listless loss in Philadelphia midweek, there will be plenty at stake when the two sides take the field. Both are seeking to mount a late charge in hopes of making themselves heard in the playoff race, though the Union, bolstered by their firm semifinal outing to deny the Fire a chance to seize their fifth Open Cup title, undoubtedly carry all of the momentum. 

Results speak for themselves, though, as the Men in Red have failed to win on the road since July 2014, a period spanning 20 matches across all competitions. As it stands, 11 of the Fire's 12 remaining fixtures - barring next week's final cross-conference bout of the season with the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park - pit Yallop's men against Eastern Conference opposition, eight of which spotlight matches against sides currently sitting above the red line.  

On Sunday, the Fire will have to make do without Gilberto, who suffered a thigh contusion in his debut four days prior. After logging 58 minutes in the Cup semifinal, fellow Designated Player David Accam (hamstring) is also questionable.

Midfielder Matt Watson, who was among the list of substitutes on Wednesday, will serve out the second match of his two-game suspension. Ty Harden, previously cup-tied to the San Jose Earthquakes, joined the group and will be available as the primary backup to Eric Gehrig and Jeff Larentowicz with Adaílton nursing an adductor strain and newly acquired center back Daneil Cyrus' unveiling set for next week.

[RELATED: Fire alarmed by defeat in USOC semifinal: 'We were outplayed']

With six points separating the Fire and sixth-place Montreal Impact, two games in hand on Philadelphia, New York City FC and Orlando City SC give Yallop and the Men in Red a platform to get back in the winning column to close out a two-week spell on the road.  

“You settle for a point but you’re trying to get three in any game you play,” Yallop said. “The reality is it’s difficult to win every game away from home. If you do get a point it feels like you’ve got something out of the match. ... This is an important week and the next two games (after Sunday) are at home, so we have a good chance of getting our season back on track or it'll falter and peter out.

“The table doesn’t lie, we’re in the position we’re in because of how we’ve done this year. It is what it is and we’ve got to get on with it. I don’t tend to worry too much about the other teams. I just look at the gap that we’ve got to catch up. We do have games in hand and we do have points available to jump above teams."

Viewing information:

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6 p.m. CT

Where: PPL Park; Chester, Pa.

Broadcast: Fox Sports 1

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.