Fire

Fire notes: Rumors, David Accam update, Johan Kappelhof honored

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Fire notes: Rumors, David Accam update, Johan Kappelhof honored

Everyone is happier after a win.

Certainly Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was in his weekly conference call with the media on Monday. Paunovic’s call went longer than normal and he spoke about tactical changes, gave up update on David Accam’s injury status and talked about upcoming opponent New York City FC.

One of the more notable quotes from Paunovic came when asked about Sunday’s match and the Fire trying to get even with NYCFC after losing 4-3 in the first match of the season.

“What I am going to say now I want you to understand well from the standpoint of somebody that is very competitive,” Paunovic said. “We had our honor hurt here when we wanted to win, our presentation to our fans, and we lost the game against New York.”

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Paunovic also spoke about the tactical switch to move back to a four-man defensive line against Philadelphia.

“I think we needed more possession,” he said. “(Playing) with 4-2-3-1 helps our team feel more comfortable on the field when we want to have more possession. That helped a lot and this is why we decided to play with this and it went well. I believe we improved, but we still have to improve more in our possession and our patience and recognition when we have to progress.”

The Fire earned a second straight shutout in the 1-0 win against Philadelphia and for the first time this season had most of the possession. Defender Johan Kappelhof was named to the MLS Team of the Week, the first time a Fire player has earned that honor in 2016.

One continuing storyline early this year has been the health of David Accam. Accam has missed the last two games. Paunovic said his availability for Sunday remains uncertain.

“He’s still not a full go,” Paunovic said. “I will say he is recovering very well. He is in the final phase. We will see day-by-day how he performs and if he can be ready for this game.”

On the rumor mill, Dutch attacker Michael de Leeuw admitted in an interview with a Dutch publication that the Fire have been in talks with him since the winter. The 29-year-old plays for FC Groningen, where Kappelhof joined the Fire from in February.

This is likely connected to general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s recent comments about the Fire having signed a contract with one player and are close with another. It sounds like de Leeuw could be the player the Fire are close with.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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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.