Fire: Maloney out vs. D.C.; Jones, Accam train separately


Fire: Maloney out vs. D.C.; Jones, Accam train separately

Following the heavy blow sustained in the 3-2 defeat to Orlando City SC under two weeks ago, Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) and David Accam (Ghana) were called in for international duty and each missed a pair of matches: last weekend's 2-0 loss to New England Revolution and Tuesday night's slender win over Louisville City FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Shaun Maloney, away with Scotland, also hadn't featured for Frank Yallop's side since the 3-0 rout of the Montreal Impact. The Men in Red's No. 10 played all 90 minutes in a blistering UEFA Euro 2016 qualifier just three days before logging 51 minutes in his Open Cup debut.

Entering the match as a second-half substitute, the 32-year-old's night was cut short and had to be replaced by Razvan Cocis in the first half of extra time, however. After initially being diagnosed with "slight back spasms" shortly after Tuesday's victory, Maloney - and the rest of the team - were given Wednesday off. Having then missed training Thursday and Friday, the Scotsman underwent an MRI on Friday that revealed a bulging disc, thus ruling him out for next week's Eastern Conference clash with D.C. United. 

[RELATED: Busch, Yallop react to USOC Round of 16 draw]

"It's good to have everyone back," said Yallop before learning of Maloney's ultimate diagnosis. "We've got a big game next Wednesday; we want to come out and win it. We should have David and Joevin back. David's come back a little twinged, that's why he trained by himself. He should be fine.

"Shaun's got a bit of a back issue at the moment. Other than that, we've got most of our guys back."

Friday morning's training session at the Toyota Park Practice Field signaled the return of two of the Chicago Fire's three Designated Players: Kennedy Igboananike (sinus infection) and Accam. The Men in Red were also bolstered by the sight of Jeff Larentowicz (groin) - named to the bench versus Louisville - who didn't feature on Tuesday, but resumed training. Alongside Jones and Magee (hamstring), Igboananike and Larentowicz conducted separate, technical drills with fitness coach Adrian Lamb aside from full training, while Accam jogged around the field, dribbling the ball from time to time.

Now, the ninth-placed Fire turn their heads to next Wednesday's meeting with Ben Olsen's outfit, which culminates a seven game stretch against conference opponents that began in the Bronx on May 15. Since amassing five points in the first three contests, the Men in Red have lost three straight in MLS play. Beginning with D.C., Yallop's group will set about a period of three games in a span of 10 days before fixtures begin to pile up in July and August. 

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"It's not bad until you get a few injuries and you go 'Uh-oh,'" Yallop added. "That's always the worry. You've got three games in a week and you've got a couple of guys out, and you say 'I wish we had a week to recover.' I think we should be full strength in the next game."   

In the meantime, the second-year head coach rewarded his delegation with a well-deserved day's rest on Saturday. Fourteen roster players, along with guests Anton Ferdinand and newcomer Simeon Jackson - both enduring training stays with the squad - split into four teams of four, and engaged in a competitive, small-sided tournament. The winners?

Jackson, recently released by Coventry City FC, was named to Canada's preliminary Gold Cup roster. Yallop and Marc Bircham, both well-acquainted with the 28-year-old striker, brought him in to help him prepare for the biennial tournament. Jackson will continue training with the Fire through all of next week before joining the national team before their Group B bout with El Salvador on July 8.

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.