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Fire punished by late goal from Orlando in 'frustrating' loss

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Fire punished by late goal from Orlando in 'frustrating' loss

On a night when playoff hopefuls New York City FC and Montreal Impact each posted three goals in victories over the San Jose Earthquakes and New England Revolution, the onus was very much on the Chicago Fire to usurp Orlando City SC on Saturday night.

Results around the Eastern Conference have helped the Fire on many occasions, but the Men in Red - playing the Lions for the fourth time in all competitions - failed to produce a similar result, and saw their playoff hopes all but fade away. 

After a giveaway by Razvan Cocis in the defensive third, Brek Shea strode past Joevin Jones with ease en route to delivering a ball across the box to Darwin Cerén. Bryan Rochez took the ball off his foot and finished past Jon Busch in the 86th minute, which proved to be the difference on the night as the Fire (7-16-6, 27 points) slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Orlando City (9-13-8, 35 points) in front of an announced crowd of 20,280 at Toyota Park. 

"They hit the crossbar, had the goal; we had some near misses," Fire coach Frank Yallop said. "The final pass wasn't there for us. That's the story of the game."

[RELATED: Fire return home to face Orlando City SC]

The loss - the Fire's 16th of 2015 - leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table and nine points adrift of sixth-placed Montreal. After snapping a six-match winless streak with a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City last week, Orlando City’s second win on the trot inches them closer toward breaking into the top six.

Yallop made just two changes from the side that fell on the road to the New York Red Bulls last time out. Busch replaced Sean Johnson in goal for his first start (all competitions) since the Fire's 3-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup on July 22. Cocis made his return and deputized for the suspended Matt Polster in central midfield.

Both sides struggled to develop a rhythm in the early going, and exchanged half chances until Orlando City midfielder Carlos Rivas clanged a side-footed effort off the crossbar in the 18th minute. Cyle Larin bullied Fire right back Daneil Cyrus off the ball, and squared to Rivas, who was unlucky not to punish the Trinidadian for his error.

Kennedy Igboananike and Harry Shipp were at the heart of the Fire's two most dangerous chances, forcing diving saves from Orlando City goalkeeper Tally Hall in the 34th and 38th minutes. 

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

Following a tame opening 45, the second stanza provided much of the same back-and-forth. The visitors did well to keep the hosts out as Cocis was on the receiving end of an Igboananike cross in the 61st minute, seeing his ensuing header batted away by Hall.

As the half wore on, Adrian Heath's unit stood firm against the Men in Red's persistence while attempting to break on the counter attack. In the 67th minute, Larin was released into space and freed himself in the box, but sent a harmless effort toward goal. Rivas supplied Larin a minute later, but the rookie's one-time effort trickled past Busch's left post.

Four minutes from time, Orlando City broke the deadlock. Shea, Cerén and Rochez - all second-half substitutes - exploited the Fire back four, with Rochez finishing from close range to help Orlando City snatch all three points.

"It's just frustrating," Yallop added. "I feel really bad for the guys. We work hard, we do the things that, I feel and we feel as a group, are good enough to get more points in the table than we're getting. It's very frustrating right now. We seem to find every sort of opportunity to give goals up."

[MORE FIRE: Matt Polster to represent U.S. in Olympic qualifying]

Next up for the Fire is a midweek clash against the Montreal Impact on Sept. 23, the third and final meeting between the two teams.

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2) - Jon Busch; Daneil Cyrus, Ty Harden, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Mike Magee, 85'), Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens (Jason Johnson, 85'), Harry Shipp (Gilberto, 71'); David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike.

NOTE:

- Two players were ruled unavailable prior to kickoff: Eric Gehrig (heel) and Sean Johnson (shoulder pain) will both have MRIs next week to determine the extent of their injuries. 

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.