Fire notes: Gilberto update; international call-ups return


Fire notes: Gilberto update; international call-ups return

Wins have come at a premium for the Men in Red this season. And after grabbing all three points against the New England Revolution on Oct. 3 and training through a bye week, interim coach Brian Bliss and the Fire are striving to make it two on the trot.

Following a weekend off, the Fire were back out on the practice field as they prepare for their final away match of the season - a trip to the nation's capital.

Barring a three-game winning streak that canceled out a three-match losing spell to start the 2015 campaign, the Men in Red have been unable to build on any of their other regular season victories since, either losing or drawing in the ensuing fixture. Bliss hopes the Fire (8-18-6, 30 points) can carry the energy gained from the result against the Revolution into Sunday's match at RFK Stadium against D.C. United (14-12-6, 48 points).    

"It's unfortunate that we had the international break after the New England win, but it is what it is," Bliss said after training Thursday. "We had that downtime, but it gave us a good opportunity to heal some guys that might've been ailing and gave us some good training time as well. Hopefully we've still got that momentum going, and it'd be nice to put a nice series [of wins] together to end the season."

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Other notes from training:

Fire quartet returns from international duty

David Accam (Ghana), Daneil Cyrus and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), and Matt Polster (United States Under-23s) all went the full 90 minutes with their respective national teams Tuesday night. All four reported back to Chicago on Wednesday, but were held out of training on Thursday to take part in a separate, regeneration session.

"All of those guys have played minutes for us with the first team, and started a lot of these games," Bliss said. "We're counting on them. So, hopefully everybody comes back and they're feeling it, and they're ready to go on Sunday. We'll plug them in as we see fit."

Added Bliss of Accam's club performances: "He's got speed to burn, and the timing of his runs is pretty good. He's got a little bit of [Sebastian] Giovinco in him. ... He's been an asset to us, and his minutes-to-goals [ratio] is pretty fantastic. He's got a little bit of bite to him. When he feels he's been wronged, he goes after it. If he feels he's made a mistake, he goes and tries to make up for it. He's pretty durable in that respect, too, because he takes a pounding and he keeps going. Credit to him that he doesn't dive around or take extra time off."

[RELATED: Fire ink multi-year jersey partnership deal with Valspar]

Injury update

Designated Player Gilberto is still feeling the ill effects of a knock to the foot he sustained in a tussle with Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones. The Brazilian forward, who's notched three goals in his last two appearances, was kept out of training on Thursday.

"He can't get out there and do the stuff that he's capable of doing right now," Bliss said. "Hopefully, by the end of the week he's ready to go."

Guest players

- With a labral tear keeping Sean Johnson out for the remainder of the season - he is able to contribute to goalkeeping sessions but not at full tilt - and Alec Kann playing second fiddle to starter Jon Busch, Bliss welcomed in goalkeeper Austin Ejide this week.

Ejide, 31, most recently plied his trade with Hapoel Be'er Sheva in Israel but has been out-of-contract since July 1. He was also named to three FIFA World Cup squads for Nigeria: Japan and South Korea (2002), South Africa (2010), and Brazil (2014). 

- All five USL players who were invited to training last week (Romeo Filipović (Arizona United), Jamiel Hardware (Saint Louis FC), Parker Maher (Saint Louis FC), James Musa (Saint Louis FC) and Jason Plumhoff (Harrisburg City Islanders)) have rejoined their clubs. 

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Brian Dunseth will step in as the color analyst alongside play-by-play commentator Dan Kelly for Sunday’s D.C.-Chicago broadcast (1 p.m. CT; CSN).

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.