Fire

Fire, Red Bulls end match in scoreless draw

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Fire, Red Bulls end match in scoreless draw

Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010
11:39 PM
Associated Press

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) -- On the field with some of soccer's biggest names, Sean Johnson stole the show.

The Chicago Fire goalkeeper made seven saves Sunday night, including two on shots by Thierry Henry and another by Juan Pablo Angel in stoppage time, to preserve a 0-0 tie against the New York Red Bulls. It was only the second Major League Soccer game for the 21-year-old Johnson.

"We should have won the game," said Henry, who doesn't expect to miss any time after leaving the game in the 45th minute with a groin injury. "We had chances to win the game, but Chicago and their goalkeeper had a great game."

The Fire and Red Bulls have dominated Major League Soccer headlines with their big-name acquisitions over the last few weeks, and the chance to see all the stars drew a crowd of 21,868, the largest ever for a Fire game at Toyota Park.

Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who followed Barcelona teammate Henry to New York, was in the starting lineup for his Red Bulls debut. Freddie Ljungberg was playing his first home game since being traded to Chicago from Seattle on July 30, and Mexico international Nery Castillo was greeted with fireworks when he came on in the second half, his first appearance since Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine loaned him to the Fire.

But it was Johnson who made the difference.

The Red Bulls peppered him with five shots on goal in the second half, including a shot by Angel at the beginning of stoppage time. Positioned just inside the 6-yard box, the Red Bulls captain got his head on the ball and swung hard. But Johnson got a hand on the ball, punching it clear.

"I'm disappointed. I think we should have won the game," Angel said. "We had a number of chances, we just couldn't put them away."

Henry, playing in his second MLS game, gave New York its best chances in the first half. In the 20th minute, he stopped Fire defender C.J. Brown with a stutter step and took a shot from close range, but Johnson stopped it easily. Ten minutes later, Angel fed Henry on the run, but he got tangled up with a defender in the box and Johnson smothered the ball.

But he tweaked his groin -- he left New York's exhibition against Manchester City with a similar injury -- and left in the 45th minute.

"For me, it's the preseason," said Henry, who signed with New York on July 14 after being released by Barcelona. "Guys out there are fully fit and it's not easy to try and get fit. But I'm going to try and do it as fast as I can."

Chicago's offense has suffered since the departure of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, lacking the creative touch that made the Fire so dangerous up top. But the trade for Ljungberg appears to have solved that. He had several nice give-and-gos with McBride -- but he blew a chance to give Chicago the lead in the 43rd minute.

McBride made a nice run up the right side, looking for Ljungberg all the way as Ljungberg charged to the left post. McBride made a perfect cross, but Ljungberg duffed the shot just inside the 6-yard box.

"I'm very happy because Freddie adapted very fast with all the teammates. He's a big professional and looked very good to me," Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "Nery Castillo, when these guys have more knowledge of each other, I'm sure we will improve in front, in the attack."

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

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USA TODAY

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

Due to an early playoff exit, the players of the 2017 Chicago Fire have begun to disperse around the country to see family and friends back home during the offseason.

It’s not hard to make an argument that injuries played a significant part in the team’s playoff defeat. Michael de Leeuw went down on Sept. 30 with a torn ACL, Bastian Schweinsteiger played only 19 minutes in the last seven games of the season and Juninho wasn’t quite back to 100 percent when the playoffs rolled around. De Leeuw’s absence especially seemed to change the way the team played.

“Michael is loved by everyone in the locker room,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That’s off the field, but on the field he also put his best always. His quality, his mentality, character, leadership. He’s a winner, he wanted to win. That piece maybe we missed.”

More than five weeks after suffering the knee injury against New York City FC on Sept. 30, de Leeuw had his surgery on Thursday morning. Teenager Djordje Mihailovic suffered an ACL tear in the playoff loss nearly a full month after de Leeuw’s, but still had his surgery a week before the Dutchman.

“It was also my MCL,” de Leeuw said the day before his surgery. “It was a little bit sprained so that’s why they had to wait a little bit longer. Djordje only had his ACL, that’s why he already got surgery. When I saw he already got surgery I was like ‘S***, when is my turn? When can I go to the table?’ My knee is fine. It was a couple weeks longer, but it’s good now. It’s calm.”

De Leeuw said he was “a little bit” nervous going into the surgery because it was his first surgery. He had already been building his muscles, specifically quad strength, in advance of the procedure. The 31-year-old, who shared the team lead in assists with eight, will stay in Chicago for the rehab process.

He is under contract through 2018 with a club option for 2019. When asked about his long-term future, de Leeuw is confident he can return to 100 percent next season.

“I know my body,” he said. “I will be back for sure and I will be back stronger because I can do a lot of stuff in the gym now. That’s one thing I’m sure about. I will be back and I will be back stronger.

“I’m not done with the club and things I want to do here and accomplish here.”

[RELATED: Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason]

His, and Mihailovic’s, absence for the first part of 2018 will also have an impact on how the Fire approach this offseason. De Leeuw established himself as a regular starter and Mihailovic was starting to become a regular in the lineup towards the end of the year, especially after de Leeuw’s injury.

“We, for a while, had believed we had good depth, we had emerging talent on the attacking side,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “We could maybe disproportionately focus our attention in other areas, other lines of play, but we have to be realistic. They each could miss a large portion of the season so we have to reconsider our initial thoughts and revise our plan a little bit. For sure now, I think we’ll need to look to add some attacking piece because that’s a lot of minutes that we planned on that will need to be filled.”