Fire

Fire lose in New England in David Accam's return

Fire lose in New England in David Accam's return

David Accam wasn't the answer to the Chicago Fire's offensive problems. At least not Saturday night in a 45-minute substitute appearance.

Accam played for the first time since March 11, but the Fire lost 2-0 in New England. The Ghanaian entered the match at the start of the second half in place of Gilberto, but was unable to spark the Fire's attack.

Without Accam, the Fire (1-4-4, 7 points) scored four goals in six and a half games. On Saturday, the Fire didn't manage a shot on target unless the deflected header by New England defender Andrew Farrell in added time counts.

"David recovered well," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said in the postgame quote sheet. "Our plan today was to play some minutes, [not 45], but in the end we had to make decisions. He was very aware of his abilities and what he needed to bring to the game. He is important for us, but we need to keep working on him and be careful; after being out for two months, you need to be careful, but we expect David to be fine for the next game." 

The loss to the Revolution (2-3-7, 13 points) could be the low point of the Fire's season so far. It is the first time the Fire have played a match that was decided by more than one goal and it marks back-to-back losses for the first time this season. In additon, New England was a team near the bottom of the standings. The Revolution had just one win in 11 matches coming in and comfortably got win No. 2 on Saturday.

With seven points from nine matches, the Fire have matched the worst start in club history. The 2013 team was 2-6-1 through nine matches.

Lee Nguyen got the scoring going with an impressive curling shot that found the upper 90 in the 22nd minute. Nguyen played a short corner and quickly received the return feed and scored off the inside of the post from a tight angle.

Femi Hollinger-Janzen put the game away in the 84th minute by heading into an open net after Juan Agudelo drew out Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson (four saves) and crossed the ball.

From a lineup standpoint, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic made a few changes from Wednesday's match in Vancouver. Given the cross-continent travel and the short turnaround, that shouldn't be a surprise.

Khaly Thiam got the start in his Fire debut, sitting next to Matt Polster in the Fire midfield. Thiam was replaced by Razvan Cocis in the 64th minute. Gilberto returned to the starting lineup after not playing in Vancouver. Brandon Vincent, who came off the bench Wednesday in place of Michael Harrington, made his first start since March 19 against Columbus.

Kei Kamara, whose trade from Columbus was announced early on Thursday, made a start in his debut for the Revolution. He had a shot on goal and was a focal point of the attack, but didn't factor directly into either of the goals.

The Fire conclude the road trip on Wednesday when they take on the New York Red Bulls.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

schwein-not-playing.jpg
USA TODAY

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.