Fire lose late lead, but eliminate Columbus in draw

Fire lose late lead, but eliminate Columbus in draw

In a familiar story, the Chicago Fire gave up a late goal that denied a win at home.

The Fire had come back from a halftime deficit against the Columbus Crew to take a lead into the final 15 minutes, but couldn’t hold on in a 2-2 draw.

After going down a goal in the first half, an own goal and Michael de Leeuw’s fifth goal of the season gave the Fire a 2-1 lead against their rivals from Ohio. Adam Jahn’s second goal of the match tied things up in the 80th minute.

A frustrated Veljko Paunovic spoke of how disappointed he was that the team couldn't win a game for the fans who have "suffered too much."

“I think we all know where we are," the Fire coach said. "I think we could see improvements in our team and things that we still have to get better. I think that has been the whole year the same process, the same things to do to improve. Still a long way to go.”

Jahn’s first goal came on a counter. Justin Meram hit a perfect through ball to Adam Jahn and Jahn beat Sean Johnson to make it 1-0 in the 13th minute.

That was the only shot on target for either team in the first half.

David Arshakyan replaced John Goossens at halftime. Goossens was one of the most active Fire players in the first half, but the tactical shift seemed to help the Fire's attack. Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter even credited Arshakyan for causing problems for Columbus.

The Fire (6-16-10, 28 points) were able to tie things up in the 53rd minute when Michael Parkhurst deflected a ball into his own net after the Fire tried to find David Arshakyan, who subbed on at halftime, in the box.

Four minutes later Arturo Alvarez cut inside on a defender from the right wing and centered a ball to Michael de Leeuw, who was open in front and able to easily score with his first touch.

“Obviously Arshakyan brings a different dimension to the game," Alvarez said. "He’s a big guy, a big presence on the field. I think in the first half we had some looks as well, but unfortunately they didn’t go our way. It was a good tactical shape. We made sure that we took advantage of his size and it opened up a little bit of space for the guys on the wings.”

[MORE FIRE: Young midfielder Collin Fernandez in search of playing time]

Jahn evened things up with a hard-hit volley soon after a corner kick to make it 2-2 and set up an exciting final 10 minutes. Columbus (8-12-12, 36 points) needed a win to stay alive in the playoff race and sent everybody forward, including goalkeeper Steve Clark for the final two minutes, but could not find a goal. The Fire had a number of chances on a counter, but could not convert either.

“I think obviously with two home games left in the season, to not get a win the first one out of the two to end the season is a little disappointing," midfielder Matt Polster said. "Just to give our fans something and to kind of finish the season off strong,"

Columbus is eliminated from playoff contention a year after hosting MLS Cup.

The Fire close out the home schedule Sunday against New England.

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.