Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson


Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson

The soccer world is heading into an international break and the off week comes at a good time for the Chicago Fire.

A few players are nursing injuries, but coach Veljko Paunovic sounded optimistic that the injuries are minor and that the full squad could play against Philadelphia on April 2.

David Accam, who missed Saturday's 0-0 draw against Columbus, was described as day-by-day by Paunovic during his weekly conference call with media.

"He is very positive that he can make it so we believe he will be ready," Paunovic said.

The injury to John Goossens, who left at halftime with a hamstring injury, was described by Paunovic as "not that serious." Paunovic said the Dutch midfielder should be able to rejoin the rest of the team in a couple days.

Arturo Alvarez also had some fatigue and soreness, according to Paunovic, and sat out training today. The combination of these injuries and players being away on international duty, like Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster, meant there were only 14 players available in training today.

[RELATED: Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster to join U.S. Olympic team]

Paunovic addressed how Sean Johnson is handling being the No. 2 goalkeeper after making more than 150 appearances with the club since 2010.

“I can tell you that he’s handling that very good," Paunovic said. "He works hard and he is someone that always helps his teammates. How he’s handled it, we appreciate it. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.

"From my point of view, I understand and I know what he’s going through. I’ve been through that and I understand and I know that every player wants to play. The situation with him is the same situation."

The Fire may have no plans to trade Johnson at the moment, and Paunovic denied any possible trades when asked, but he has an above average MLS salary for a goalkeeper. In a league with a very tight salary cap, having a well-paid backup goalkeeper isn't exactly an efficient use of resources. If the Fire viewed trading Harry Shipp as something beneficial for both sides when Shipp was no longer deemed a starter, it would seem the same circumstances apply to Johnson. There are certainly teams in the league that would view Johnson as an upgrade at goalkeeper.

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Another potential position battle could be emerging at right back. Rodrigo Ramos got his first start on Saturday after two substitute appearances in the first two matches while Michael Harrington served his suspension for the red card at Orlando.

“We are very happy with the performance of Rodrigo," Paunovic said. "We can see that he is ready now to play and now he has to compete for the spot like everyone else.

"Sometimes he carries the ball too much and that makes him lose a lot of energy, which we have to work on. He knows that, we told him. He’s a really great kid, very talented and on the other side he has to earn it. He can play as a right back, he can play in different systems. He can play in the last system we played, a 3-5-2, he can also be very useful in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3.”

The Philadelphia match will show if Paunovic thinks Ramos earned another start or if Paunovic sticks with Harrington as his starter.

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.