Fire

Fire opener nears following Season Kickoff Luncheon

calistri-slide-0229.png

Fire opener nears following Season Kickoff Luncheon

It's officially a match week for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire's regular season starts Sunday against New York City FC. The 1 p.m. match will be televised on CSN Chicago and will mark the start of the Veljko Paunovic era.

On Monday, the club marked the new season in style during the annual Season Kickoff Luncheon. Players and staff from the club met with fans and members of the media and some new information about the upcoming season was revealed.

For starters, the club will be signing trialist Arturo Alvarez and second round draft pick Alex Morrell. Neither contract has been officially announced, but they were introduced as members of the team on Monday. In addition, third round pick Vincent Keller and 2015 second round pick Kingsley Bryce were waived. Once Alvarez and Morrell are signed the Fire will have 24 players under contract for the season opener.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said that another trialist who is now under contract, John Goossens, may not have his visa for the season opener. Rodriguez also added that the club is still looking for international players, some of which are under contract with other teams, and that the team "remains a work in progress."

[MORE: John Goossens signs contract with Fire]

"John Goossens has proven to be a really good find for us," Rodriguez said. "His versatility is also important to us. We think he can play any of the midfield spots. We also think he can play out on the wing for us. That’s comforting. I don’t know if he’ll have his visa in time for this weekend so we’ll adjust if that’s not the case, but we would like to add another midfielder and we still need some support up front. We need to find more goals.

"We’re satisfied with the progress that we’re making on some of the players with whom we’re negotiating currently around the globe. We hope to bring those to conclusion as soon as we can, but always with the eye to building something that can be sustainable.”

As for Sunday's lineup, Paunovic didn't give much away for who would start. When asked if Matt Lampson would be the starting goalkeeper ahead of Sean Johnson after a strong preseason for Lampson, which included starting two shutouts in the preseason, Paunovic gave an open-ended answer.

“We are working on that," Paunovic said. "We have seven days to prepare for the game.”

Perhaps it's just a coach remaining guarded about his lineup, but Johnson's answer to a similar question didn't kill any speculation either. Johnson only played in one of the three preseason games in Portland and said there has been no discussion about who would start.

"I definitely expected to play more than I did," Johnson said. "Playing 75 minutes in Portland, I would have liked to play a little more, but that’s the coach’s decision and not mine.”

[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear here]

To throw another question mark into the mix, David Accam's status is still unclear. Accam didn't play in Portland initially due to illness, but now Paunovic said he is dealing with a minor muscle injury.

“He had some small muscular problems so we believe he is going to be fine soon because we are not going to push him because he is very important for our team," Paunovic said. "We don’t want him to feel under stress now when we are starting so when he is ready he will be great for us.”

To sum it up, the Fire are resembling a serialized drama right now. For as many answers as they provide, a few more questions are popping up to replace them. Sunday's match against NYCFC will answer a lot of questions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

schwein-221.jpg
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

polster-217.jpg
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.