Fire looking to offset 'uncharacteristic' midweek display


Fire looking to offset 'uncharacteristic' midweek display

In a span of four days, the buoyancy garnered from a fortifying home win against the Montreal Impact - a margin of victory last experienced in league play on October 4, 2013 - prefaced the disconsolate feelings left behind from the deflating midweek loss in the nation's capital to D.C. United.

For the Chicago Fire, a streaky team that's yet to establish a foothold in Major League Soccer, games continue to come thick and fast, with Orlando City SC's visit (7:30 p.m. on CSN) denoting the Men in Red's fifth in a chain of seven consecutive versus the Eastern Conference. With a perfect record against conference foes at Toyota Park, the onus is on Frank Yallop's side to generate a firm response.

"For us, now, any home game is a must-win, especially against an Eastern Conference team," said Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp Friday. "Orlando is a good team, but I think we've played - bar one or two games - really well at home. It bodes well for us and hopefully after we get a win this weekend, we figure out how to take our confidence at home out on the road for a 90-minute performance."

Despite a nimble interchange that emanated from Shipp and led to David Accam's third goal of the season - giving the Fire a befitting 1-0 halftime adavantage - the lead was swiftly erased by the Black-and-Red following a brace from Jairo Arrieta and Conor Doyle in a 14-minute spell. Shipp, elated at his side's staunch first half outing, was flummoxed by the change in attitude after the halftime interval. 

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"I thought for the first half, we played so well," he said. "We went into halftime feeling good. We controlled the tempo and limited their chances. In the second half, we did a lot of things that were pretty uncharacteristic: guys out of position, turnovers that we normally don't have.

"All of that in the first 15 minutes of the second half kind of snowballed. Luckily for us, we play again tomorrow. It's a chance - if we have a good game tomorrow - to win two out of the three this week, which would be a decent week for us. It almost is better that we play so quickly because you don't have to mull over stupid things that you did for a whole week."

In the absence of Designated Player Shaun Maloney, the 23-year-old embraced the No. 10 role behind Quincy Amarikwa on Wednesday. The 2014 Rookie of the Year finalist's foray into his free-flowing post at RFK Stadium demonstrated the considerable latitude he was given - creating space for himself and his colleagues - while showing glimpses of his attacking instincts and ability to seek out the imbalances in the opposition.     

"It's what I played for the first 16 years I played soccer," Shipp said. "It's nice to be back there, and be able to float and go where the ball goes. That's probably my favorite thing to do, which is to get the ball and make plays.

"That [position] allows [me] to do it, but when I'm outside, it's a totally different mindset. It almost took me the first five to 10 minutes of the D.C. game to switch out of being an outside winger where you're going up and down, especially defensively, having to get back in transition. I'm looking forward to hopefully play that role in the future."

[MORE FIRE: Yallop wary of 'well-balanced' Orlando City]

As the Men in Red approach their second of three matches without the aid of the Scotland international, the collective expectation will be much higher as Adrian Heath's outfit makes its first-ever trip to Toyota Park in search of its third away win of the season. The Fire's defeat to D.C. - their first of the season when scoring the first goal - was another example of a lead squandered. But Shipp, who's jumped out to two goals and four assists through 12 matches in 2015, is bullish on the team's know-how to mend the situation.          

"On the road, especially when we've been in positions where we've gotten leads, we've come out and tried to protect those leads too much," Shipp added. "You saw against Montreal, we took the lead, put our foot on the gas and kept going.

"It's something to learn. When we get a lead, there's no point in sitting back and just playing the ball long. All of that pressure you're absorbing eventually is going to pay off for the other team. It's something we really have to consciously work at and something that's definitely been frustrating for us in certain games, but luckily for us, it's something we can fix. We know we have the potential to keep the ball and play and press other teams." 

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.