Fire, Orlando City settle for draw in weather-delayed match


Fire, Orlando City settle for draw in weather-delayed match

The scene was set for the Chicago Fire to leapfrog multiple teams below the red line in the Eastern Conference standings Saturday night. With the Montreal Impact, New York City FC and Philadelphia Union all losing out in their respective matches, the Fire, with a win could've claimed sole possession of sixth place in the East.

After outlasting multiple weather delays and assuming a 1-0 lead at the half-hour mark, the Men in Red fell short of grasping their first road win of the season, however, instead settling for a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC. David Accam's strike in the 30th minute - his team-leading seventh of 2015 - was followed up by an own goal from Eric Gehrig in the 37th minute, enough for the Fire (7-13-6, 27 points) to pull level on points with the Union and jump to ninth place, while Orlando City (7-12-8, 29 points) dislodged the Impact - temporarily - of the sixth and final playoff spot.

Head coach Frank Yallop trotted out the same lineup that got him a 3-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. The only change was reflected on the bench, as defender Greg Cochrane returned from his loan stint with USL outfit Saint Louis FC to replace Mike Magee, who, per a coach's decision, did not travel with the team to Orlando.   

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Lightning strikes and booms of thunder in and around the area pushed fans inside the Citrus Bowl from their seats to the concourses several times before the match - scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. CT kickoff - resumed at 8:20 p.m. A crafty free kick in the 15th minute orchestrated by Accam and headed toward Tally Hall's frame was all there was to speak of before another lightning strike prompted referee Baldomero Toledo to send players and coaches back into the dressing room.

Play resumed around 9:45 p.m. in the 19th minute, with both sides continuing to set the tempo. It was Accam, though, who silenced the home crowd. The Ghanaian sped to save the ball on the endline with a quarter-hour left to play in the first half, cutting inside Orlando City right back Corey Ashe before sneaking a low shot inside Hall's near post to give the Men in Red the 1-0 advantage.

The lead was quickly snuffed out.

Seven minutes later, Lewis Neal sent an enticing delivery into the box to forward Cyle Larin. The rookie's flick-on header deflected off the head of Gehrig, looped up and over Sean Johnson's outstretched arms for the hosts' equalizer, later deemed an own goal.  

[RELATED: After win vs. RBNY, Fire crave encore performance at Orlando]

Heading into the halftime interval with less than 40 percent of possession, the Fire found themselves largely on the back foot throughout the second 45 and were fortunate to not concede. Adrian Heath's group spurned two golden opportunities late in the game - a Carlos Rivas shot from close range in the 82nd clanged off the post, and Darwin Cerén's stinging effort drew the save of the night from Johnson in second-half stoppage time.   

With the international window looming, the Men in Red will have to cope with two dropped points and missing players for their next Eastern Conference fixture. Accam (Ghana), Matt Polster (United States; U-23s) and Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) will depart Orlando for international duty, and are set to miss the Fire's second match of their three-game road trip, a date with the Impact at Saputo Stadium on Sept. 5.   

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Harry Shipp, 60'), Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens, David Accam; Gilberto (Jason Johnson, 60'), Kennedy Igboananike.

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.