Fire

Fire play at Real Salt Lake with Open Cup semifinal on deck

Fire play at Real Salt Lake with Open Cup semifinal on deck

The situation facing Fire coach Veljko Paunovic in the next four days is potentially a tricky one.

Paunovic and the Fire face a game at Real Salt Lake on Saturday, three days before the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at New England. Saturday's game at Rio Tinto Stadium in is on CSN at 9 p.m. with coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

Paunovic will have to decide how strong of a lineup to play at RSL considering what is almost certainly the biggest game of the season to date takes places on the other side of the country three days later. Paunovic didn’t have David Accam or Jonathan Campbell travel to the game at FC Dallas, which was four days before the Open Cup quarterfinal in July. It's possible similar moves to rest players happen Saturday, although Paunovic wouldn't tell reporters when asked.

Playing in altitude against RSL (9-7-7, 34 points) will give the Fire (4-10-6, 18 points) a tough test. RSL is undefeated at home this season (5-0-5), but has drawn the last four home matches.

“For the sake of the position and how well they are performing in the season so far I think for them they see this game as a must-win so it’s going to all make this game tougher for us,” Paunovic said. “We believe that just by playing like we are doing right now, keeping our identity, that mentality of playing 90 minutes even when you concede goals, is something we have to improve. We make our games tough to our opponent and that’s how we have to go to Salt Lake and play with the same identity.”

The Fire will be without Joao Meira, who suffered a hamstring strain last weekend against the New York Red Bulls, and Khaly Thiam, who was suspended by the league for a hard tackle against Dax McCarty in that game. That could make any squad rotation even tougher.

One addition could be the debut of forward Luis Solignac. On Wednesday, the Fire traded for the Argentine from Colorado and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Thursday that he expects Solignac to play Saturday. He flew directly to Salt Lake instead of meeting the team for training this week. Solignac won’t be able to play in the Open Cup game in New England because he already played for the Rapids in the cup this year.

RSL’s leading scorer, Yura Movsisyan, has missed the past two games with a hip flexor and is listed as questionable. He returned to training this week and could make his return.

“Salt Lake is a strong team, especially at home,” Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “They have their core, their backbone of the midfield in [Kyle] Beckerman and [Javier] Morales, who have been in the league and playing so well together for a very long time. We got to make sure we stay on top of that, we focus on that, but at the same time they have good individual players, [forwards Joao] Plata and [Juan] Martinez. It’s going to be a difficult game. I think we just got to go in there with a confidence.”

Chicago Fire at Real Salt Lake

When: 9 p.m. Saturday (coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

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.