Fire

Fire to persevere in final stretch: 'Our leaders have not quit'

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Fire to persevere in final stretch: 'Our leaders have not quit'

The last time the Chicago Fire tasted a home defeat against the New York Red Bulls, Bob Bradley - who had helped the Men in Red capture the MLS Cup and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles between 1998 and 2000 - headed the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars to a 3-0 victory over his former side in front of 8,341 at Soldier Field on May 14, 2005.

Needless to say, times have changed since even the likes of Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch - current members of the Red Bulls technical staff who featured that day - made their veteran presence felt in the Fire dressing room.

Ten years later, a new wave of leadership will be called upon to guide the Fire (6-13-5, 23 points) to a positive result against the Red Bulls (11-6-6, 39 points), who visit Toyota Park Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+).       

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“Our leaders have not quit,” head coach Frank Yallop said Monday. “They’re vocal. They’re encouraging. We haven’t quit. I feel that the performances were good in this part of the season. We’re trying our best to put it right. Plus you’ve gone a goal down in a minute [against Colorado Rapids]. We could’ve crumbled and gave up, but we didn’t. We kept going. It says a lot for the guys on the field and the guys that are the leaders in Jeff [Larentowicz], Sean [Johnson], Jon [Busch] and Razvan [Cocis].”

Already facing mounting pressure heading into the final stretch of the season, the Men in Red - with two games in hand on the Philadelphia Union, Orlando City SC and New York City FC below the red line and five points back of the Montreal Impact - are still keeping playoff hopes in their sights. Having missed out on the postseason in four of the last five years, this year's run-in could be the most arduous yet.    

A home-and-home with Orlando City still to come, Wednesday's fixture marks the first of three late-season encounters with the Red Bulls, with games against Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United and playoff hopefuls Toronto FC, New England Revolution and Montreal on the horizon as well.    

“We’re not out of the playoff hunt yet, so you’ve got to go with your strongest lineup who you think is going to win games,” Yallop added when asked whether he would consider incorporating younger players into team selection. “Mathematically, we still have a chance.” 

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For the visitors, who've parted ways with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill - among others - to rebrand with an influx of young talent, winning five of their last six regular season matches sees them nipping at the heels of D.C. and in pole position to make a run at the Supporters' Shield. 

From front to back, Marsch has assembled a unit worthy of making a deep run into the postseason, all while aiming to instill a revamped philosophy within the club, a dogged and aggressive style of play that few MLS teams have been able to defy. Wednesday's bout with the New York club will provide the Fire a template to work with before the clubs meet again on Sept. 11 and Oct. 25.        

“They’re a little more youthful, a little more team-oriented rather than individual now,” Yallop said. “They move the ball pretty sharply, and [Bradley] Wright-Phillips is a sniper. Not much has changed. I like Lloyd Sam, he’s a good player as well. They’ve got some good players and good weapons, and they seem to stay pretty healthy, which is always a key in our league.”

NOTE: Mike Magee, who underwent an MRI on his knee on Monday, is fine and available for selection, according to a club spokesperson. That leaves Adaílton, who received an injection to help his adductor strain, the only player currently on the team's injury list.   

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.

Broadcast: CSN Chicago Plus    

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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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

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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.