Fire out to prove lopsided D.C. loss was the 'accident of the season'

Fire out to prove lopsided D.C. loss was the 'accident of the season'

Less than three weeks after receiving the most lopsided loss of the season at RFK Stadium, the Chicago Fire have another chance against D.C. United.

The Fire lost 6-2 at United on Aug. 27, a scoreline which was partially fueled by a first half red card to Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam. On Friday, D.C. will make its second trip to Toyota Park.

The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in Bridgeview on April 30. Former Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko scored the tying goal for D.C. (7-9-12, 33 points) in that match.

Coach Veljko Paunovic said the Fire (6-13-8, 26 points) are anxious to prove the blowout loss in D.C. was a fluke.

“I think the game we played in D.C., that wasn’t us,” Paunovic said. “I said that before and I think of course now it’s a great opportunity to prove what we say. Now we have the opportunity to show that was just the accident of the season and the overload of the situation and circumstances that we were in at that point.”

Paunovic mentioned forward Patrick Mullins in talking about D.C. Mullins scored a hat trick against the Fire last time out and will be a focus of the Fire this time around.

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New signing David Arshakyan made his Fire debut off the bench in that loss at D.C. He also came on as a substitute in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Toronto. The Armenian forward could be in line for more time with Michael de Leeuw, who has scored in three straight matches, limited in training this week with an ankle injury. De Leeuw was listed as questionable on the injury report.

“We know… that (Arshakyan) will need to adjust to this league,” Paunovic said. “We know we can evaluate him through every training, every week and then give some opportunities in the game. We don’t want to overwhelm him, which means at this point of the season where the team has progressed so far I think he needs certain and the right amount of minutes and the load in the game and also in the week.”

The attack has improved with de Leeuw, Luis Solignac and now David Arshakyan giving Paunovic more options up front. However, last week’s loss to Toronto was one of the best midfield games of the season. The Fire had a season-high 57 percent of the possession in that loss.

“During the whole year we were looking for the right fit in our midfield and I think in the last games both of them were performing very, very well,” Paunovic said. “It’s a constant work out and constant improvement for the team and every single individual on our roster.”

It could be a good time to face D.C. There are eight players listed as out on the injury report. Notably, defender Sean Franklin and midfielder Jared Jeffrey will be out.

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.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


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.