Fire

Fire lose seventh straight on the road, fall at FC Dallas

Fire lose seventh straight on the road, fall at FC Dallas

Playing the league-leaders on the road with some key starters not making the trip in the heat of mid-July in Dallas was not a good formula for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire were thumped at FC Dallas 3-1 on Saturday to extend the team’s road losing streak to seven matches.

Fire forward Kennedy Igboananike actually had the first good chance of the match. Matt Polster was able to spring him free down the right wing and Igboananike had an open shot in the box, but his effort was hit straight at Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.

After that, FC Dallas (12-6-4, 40 points) took over. The Fire (4-9-5, 17 points) didn’t get another shot on target in the first half and Maxi Urruti and Mauro Diaz scored before the first 45 minutes concluded.

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Fabian Castillo weaved his way through two Fire defenders and then hit a rabona cross to Urruti, who headed in the goal in the 23rd minute. Then Diaz doubled the lead with a highlight-reel shot from outside the box that hit the inside of the far post and went in.

Arturo Alvarez, who came on as a second half sub, gave the Fire some consolation by curling in a free kick in the 91st minute. However, any last ditch comeback efforts were quickly snuffed out when Dallas' Mauro Rosales scored 66 seconds later. Castillo picked up his second assist with a centering pass from the left to an open Rosales in the box.

The two-goal margin is the Fire's second loss by more than a goal this season.

Coach Veljko Paunovic continued to rotate the Fire squad during the current busy stretch in the schedule with five matches in 15 days. After Rodrigo Ramos, Johan Kappelhof, Kennedy Igboananike and John Goossens didn't start in the 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City, Paunovic rested more key players on Saturday.

With the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal coming up on Wednesday, Paunovic elected not to have regular starters Sean Johnson, Jonathan Campbell and David Accam make the trip to Dallas in the middle of summer.

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Considering that the Fire have the fewest points in Major League Soccer and Dallas has the most, not to mention that the Fire haven’t won on the road in two years, Dallas was already a heavy favorite in this match. The Fire’s squad rotation with the U.S. Open Cup coming up is a pragmatic move from Paunovic, even if it meant Saturday’s match wasn’t much of a contest.

That U.S. Open Cup match against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers is up next for the Fire, with a 7:30 p.m. scheduled start at Toyota Park.

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.